The drug epidemic has struck our county. So many of us have seen firsthand what drug addiction can do. This is apparent in our family, friends, and in our courtrooms.
Many responses have been created in the hope to address this epidemic. Yet, not one has been more successful — throughout the nation — than therapeutic courts (like drug court). This program removes individuals charged with a crime from the criminal system and places them in this program. While in the program, there are specific processes and rules that are to be followed.
This program’s success is attributed to how it is conducted; this is an evidence-based program. In order to achieve such success, evidence must be followed. The key difference of this program — in contrast with past responses to addiction — is that it addresses sobriety and criminal thinking. It addresses humans in their entirety: physical and mental health, other pending cases, pending financial obligations, relationships, housing, identification and driver’s license, as well as any fundamental needs that may affect these individuals’ futures.
Success is calculated by how many individuals never re-offend again after graduating from the program (recidivism), as well how much money is saved by creating a drug court.
Recidivism matters because fewer individuals re-offending reduces crime rate and drug and property crimes — most often the drug-related crimes — have the highest rate of re-offenders.
In addition to reducing crime and changing lives, this program also saves taxpayers a ton of money. National numbers show that it saves taxpayers on average $27 for every $1 invested. The Washington Institute of Public Policy concluded Drug Courts save taxpayers an average of $8,993 for every person who enters the program.
Our county’s response
Pacific County has had a “drug court” for about a decade. However, we have a long road ahead to have the same success as other places since — as of right now — we do not comply with the “best practices” identified by experts.
How does that affect our program?
State and federal law strongly encourage the compliance with best practices. Further, federal grants always make awards contingent on such compliance. Because of that, our county has been ineligible to apply for such grants. This matters because that is how counties pay for this type of program.
Drug courts take no money out of our local budget and are fully funded by grants.
In June 2018, our Pacific County Health Department wanted to apply for a Department of Justice (DOJ) grant, which awarded up to $500,000 per county. Because of our non-compliance, our county was unable to request this grant. Without the appropriate funding, our program suffers greatly.
How does our panel attempt to compensate for this?
In addition to the customary participants in a court proceeding (judge, prosecutor and defense attorney), drug courts are meant be staffed by treatment facilitators/counselors, coordinators, case managers, and law enforcement. Pacific County does not have case managers or a probation officer due to lack of funding. It also only has a defense attorney because I choose to volunteer.
Tessa Clements, our coordinator, along with Judd Comer — both from the health department — work magic in our program. Together, they coordinate, evaluate, manage, and do right about everything they can to ensure our participants have a shot at success.
Being a part of this program has been rewarding and infuriating all at the same time. It is amazing to see the efforts and passion our panel puts in for our participants. With very little, we actually do something. We help as much as possibly can. Yet, there is so much more we wish we could do.
How does that affect our community?
First and foremost, we are left unguarded and unresponsive toward this drug epidemic.
Second, we continue to waste taxpayer dollars. We continue to prosecute drug and property crimes, knowing that these individuals will re-offend as soon as released from custody. We pay over and over again — court costs, jail and prison… repeat.
Third, our community will continue to be victimized. By not complying with best practices, we ignore the revolving door that our criminal system is and allow more of our neighbors, friends, and family members, to be victims of property crimes.
My hope for our county’s future response
I hope we – residents of Pacific County – demand change.
Call your elected officials – be heard. Grants are often available and our staff would be overjoyed with this opportunity.
Pam Nogueira Maneman of Raymond is an attorney at Ingram Zelasko & Goodwin LLP. She obtained her law degree at University of Washington. She is originally from São José dos Campos, Brazil.