Drug court a promising approach to break cycle of addiction, incarceration
The way our criminal justice system has traditionally addressed the problem of addiction in our community leaves a lot to be desired. We need more than one tool — punishment — to deal people battling addiction issues.
Having these individuals perpetually cycling in and out of the justice system seems to be an effective way to perpetuate addiction, fill up jail cells and drive up incarceration costs for taxpayers. Addiction is not a choice but the result of a other life circumstances and getting at root causes is crucial.
There are better solutions available and we recently got a glimpse of an approach that has a proven track record in other communities of dealing with addiction issues in a more humane and intelligent way.
When Jerome Dillon went through a graduation ceremony from the county’s new drug court program, Chelan County Superior Court Judge Kristin Ferrera’s courtroom was overflowing with well-wishers and the mood was one of celebration and hope.
In reading a lengthy essay about his journey through the drug court program, Dillon said the turning point in his life happened when he finally stopped fighting and surrendered to the Department of Corrections, Child Protective Services, the drug court, his recovery program. “That’s when my life changed,” Dillon said.
All evidence is that Dillon has turned his life around after a decade of serious addiction issues, including a heroin possession charge in 2018 that ultimately led him to enter the drug court program. He has a job, an apartment and has been reunited with his two young children. A photo taken by Wenatchee World reporter Pete O’Cain of Dillon hugging his two young children captured a bit of the emotion of the moment.
It was quite moving to hear the comments honoring Dillon’s work to free himself from addiction and turn his life around from those who worked with him over the past year. They described a human being who worked diligently to turn the page in his life and praised him as a wonderful father and human being and an inspiration to other drug court participants.
Lucas Bighouse, the Department of Corrections officer, captured the spirit of the moment when he said “these are the days that you live for” in which a person has turned his life around.
This important human turnaround would likely not have happened without the drug court program that allows nonviolent offenders to work through their issues with the oversight, guidance and support of individuals in the recovery community as well as the court, the public defender’s office and the prosecutor’s office.
To the cheers of the assembled crowd, Ferrera capped off the graduation by dismissing his 2018 felony charge because of his successful completion of the program.
“Drug court is probably the favorite of what I do,” Ferrera told those assembled for the graduation. “Even though we have some missteps along the way, we have had so many inspirational and heart-warming experiences and moments…along the way,” she said.
“It’s an experience like nothing else we do in court,” she said and went on say that the individuals in the program “have made me a better judge.”
It took a couple of decades for Chelan County to launch this program and now we need to make sure we provide the support and encouragement to assist people who are willing to be helped address their addiction problems rather than becoming frequent fliers in our judicial system.
Thanks to the collaborative effort to make this program work, they helped a terrific young man break the cycle of his drug habit and find his footing in our community.
These kinds of creative solutions won’t work for every offender but if we can reduce the recidivism rate and help people reclaim their place in society, we will save taxpayer dollars and foster a healthier community.