I’ve been talking with people around the district about “Drug Court”, the system that provides a hard-earned alternative to jail time for people who’ve been charged with non-violent crimes related to drug problems. Drug courts have emerged in communities around the 9th district as an alternative means to help people with opioid or other addictions get off of drugs, find and keep a job and become productive members of their communities.
This past week I had the privilege of actually sitting in on the proceedings at the Giles County Courthouse. It was incredible, at once both very practical and yet uplifting.
In order to avoid incarceration, an individual must agree to a rigorous, four-stage process that takes place over 18 months to two years. Led by Circuit Court Judge, Lee Harrell, a team of people that includes attorneys, mental health and rehab specialists, law enforcement and accountability officers, comes together to evaluate how each drug court participant is doing: Are they staying clean? Keeping or finding a job? Showing up to work on time? Doing their community service? Fulfilling the other requirements set out by the court? The participants must meet these objectives in order to remain in the program and avoid incarceration. And for most, it isn’t easy.
What impressed me is that everyone on the team works to enable each participant to succeed, not to fail. They do this by balancing strong expectations with the support services needed to meet them. After the proceedings, the judge (a former prosecutor) said to me, “For the most part In the court system, our currency is misery. But this is different. It’s wonderful to be part of something that actually helps people get to a better life.” I couldn’t agree more.