County drug court aims to cut recidivism rate

Program may range from 14 to 18 months

By Andrea Howe
Princeton Daily Clarion

PRINCETON, Ind. (AP) — In his line of work, Joe Williams meets lots of people.

Regrettably, he observes, he meets many of them over and over again.

A former Gibson County corrections officer, Williams serves as Gibson Superior Court’s Drug and Alcohol program coordinator.

Williams is the point-person for the launch of Gibson County Drug Court, a program that Gibson Superior Court Judge Earl Penrod has studied for years.

Last fall, the judge said a problem-solving court program could help reduce the rate of recidivism among drug and alcohol-related offenders.

He began laying the groundwork for the program last fall, forming a team of local law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, court services and Southwestern Indiana Behavioral Health professionals to plan its launch.

With grants from the National Drug Court Institute and Citizens for a Drug Free Gibson County, the team trained and developed a policy and procedures manual to launch the program, and they’re open for business, the Princeton Daily Clarion reported.

The planning group includes the judge, Williams and probation staff, Gibson County Sheriff George Ballard, Southwestern Indiana Behavioral Health, Gibson County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Sharon Werne, and Lisa Moody, a local defense attorney.

“I was honored to do some good for the community,” she said of her involvement in the program.

Werne said the prosecutor’s office believes the drug court is a good program, and she’s involved to help focus the program on its goals and assure it’s “not another ‘touchy-feely,’ almost enabling” situation.

Southwestern Indiana Behavioral Health counselor Ben Thomas works with many offenders. “People are going to have to be pretty motivated” to participate in the program, he observed.

Ballard said the Indiana Department of Corrections is making a strong push to reduce recidivism with the “Thinking For Change” program offered through the community transitions program. The DOC program will be incorporated in the drug court program.

“All eight cylinders have to be running, and this program is one of those cylinders,” said the judge.

Penrod said assuring that offenders don’t re-offend sometimes takes more than jail or probation. He likened the issue, for addicts, to sending someone out to plow a field without a plow.

The drug court offers the tools and makes sure participants use them, he explained.

Their next goal is to identify suitable candidates for the program and create a larger steering committee that would include members of the community.

Williams said 46 percent of the arrests made in Gibson County last year were for drug and alcohol offenses, but many of the other 54 percent of arrests involved actions that stem from drug or alcohol abuse.

“There’s a high rate of recidivism among substance abusers,” he reported. Williams said data from other drug court programs shows the recidivism rate is much lower, which means it’s less costly for taxpayers.

Williams said there are more than 2,600 drug courts in the nation, and data shows that even people who don’t finish the program are less likely to wind up in jail again.

The drug court program is not for first-time offenders, said the judge. Candidates are selected on a referral basis.

“No one has a right to the treatment court program and no one is required to participate,” he said. “It’s a lot more difficult than the straight jail sentence.”

The referrals come from the prosecutor’s office, police, probation, the jail and other avenues, and the drug court team decides who will qualify for the program.

Essentially, the judge and the drug court team work with offenders to bring treatment services, provide intensive supervision and get results through incentives and sanctions.
Williams said it’s a four-phase program, which might range from 18 to 24 months, that requires intensive counseling, support meetings, meetings with case managers, attending treatment court, getting a job or performing community service work, sobriety, a detailed schedule and curfew.

As progress is noted and sobriety is maintained, incentives are given.

He said graduates of the program will be clean for six months, have strong support network, support themselves and their family and will be much less likely to wind up back in the judicial system.