Monday, January 11, 2010

Shelby County Drug Court Task Force Looking for New Ways to Keep the Program Going

Reported by: Allison Sossaman
Last Update: 1/07 7:46 pm

Over the last 12 years, the Shelby County Drug Court has helped thousands of addicts get out of jail and back into society. Now the program needs more money, and that's the job new Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford has turned over to a task force. It met today for the first time.

"The benefit of the community is I'm no longer breaking into your houses,” said former drug addict and Drug Court graduate James Long. “I'm no longer stealing your gas. I'm no longer taking advantage of whatever I can off you in the street. I'm trying to do what I'm doing today."

Long says he's proof Drug Court gets results.

"When you've lived on the streets for years,” Long said. “I was a heroin addict, it takes everything away from you."

He says the program gave him his life back. Now he's part of the task force trying to keep the program alive.

Judge Tim Dwyer founded the Drug Court in 1997.

"It's one of the few things in the criminal justice system that's really working," Dwyer said.

The hardest part has been how to pay for it.

"It's like a roller coaster,” said Dwyer. “There's been times we've had to cut back on the number of people that needed the program because we didn't have the money. So if we can get consistent funding on this, we're going to really do some great things."

The task force needs to find more money or the court could lose one of its six employees and the ability to carry that counselor's huge caseload.

"Quite frankly, we just don't have the revenue to support all that needs to be done to address some of these social issues we're facing,” said Shelby County Sheriff Mark Luttrell. “So we've got to start looking for revenue streams outside of the established protocols."

The Sheriff says the drug court can save us money in the end.

"One of the things we've got to do is, as our jail population grows, not necessarily look at building bigger jails,” Luttrell said. “But look at what we can do better through other resources to curtail that growing tide of inmates."

James Long says he's one less inmate our tax dollars have to pay for.

"It holds you accountable,” Long said. “And if you stay clean long enough, then your brain comes back and you can rock and roll again."

It costs less than 10 dollars a day to put one person in drug court. It cost about $100 a day to pay for someone in the jail. Those who don't go through the program are far more likely to re-offend than those who do.

Just over 500 people graduated from the Drug Court program last year.

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