In a few months, people arrested for felony drug crimes in Barrow County will have a choice: face jail or attend drug court.
Funded with a $342,000 grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia, the drug court will provide treatment and counseling to those offenders willing to commit to the stringent program requirements and pay the mandated fees.
The Piedmont Circuit Drug and Mental Health Court is scheduled to begin in Barrow County this spring.
Program Coordinator Sammy Hale expects 30-35 offenders to participate in the 18-month program in its inaugural year.
Only non-violent drug offenders are eligible to participate in drug court, Hale said. The program will be open to first time offenders and those with previous convictions.
Assistant district attorney Patricia Brooks said the program offers incentives to both groups.
For first time offenders with no prior felonies, drug court offers a chance to essentially wipe the slate clean.
“That conviction could potentially be taken off their record so that by the end of drug court, you’re not a convicted felon,” she said.
For those with previous convictions or those already on probation for other offenses, drug court offers them the possibility to avoid jail.
“If you get another charge, you get your probation revoked and you’re going to go to jail,” Brooks explained. “For those people, the incentive is they can go through drug court and not go to jail.”
Though there are incentives for participating in the drug court program, the biggest benefit is a chance at rehabilitation.
“Obviously, at the end of it, you’ve gotten rid of your addiction, you’ve gotten a job and you’ve been through counseling. You’ve turned your life around by the end of drug court,” Brooks said.
Helping people get their lives back on track and become productive citizens are the primary goals of drug court. Hale said the program’s success in meeting those goals will be determined by several factors, the most obvious of which will be the rate of recidivism.
According to studies cited by the U.S. Department of Justice, drug courts reduce re-arrest rates among participants from 17 to 26 percent compared to drug offenders who did not participate in the program.
Hale said those numbers are important, but they are not the most important factor.
“You have to look at it like this, I take it personally,” he said. “You have it to take it personally. You have to say we want to save our families, we want to save our community. When you look at it that way first, it’s going to work.”
Over 2,000 drug courts are in operation throughout the United States. In addition to reducing recidivism, advocates claim the drug courts result in lower costs for the taxpayers.
Though cost effectiveness is difficult to quantify, the National Institute of Justice estimates drug courts cost approximately $5,928 per participant, a savings of $2,329 over a 30-month period compared to the cost of sending an offender through the criminal justice system.
For Hale, determining cost effectiveness is simple.
“If you’re saving lives, you’re saving more money in the long run,” he said.
“People become productive citizens through drug court,” she said. “They’re not spending the time in jail, they’re spending their time being productive. They’re getting off the addiction and they’re improving their lives. That’s what the goal of drug court is – to save that person’s life.”
For more information about the program, contact Sammy Hale, Program Director, at (770) 307-3040, ext. 4492.