Local drug court marks first year

Jenny Lancour | Daily Press Delta County District Court Judge Steve Parks, at podium, recognizes some members of the county’s drug court team during a one-year anniversary celebration of the program at Escanaba City Hall on Friday. From left are, Emily DeSalvo, district court administrator; Jeana LaCarte, district court magistrate; Parks, and Ben Booker, Marie Kwarciany, and John Harris of the Delta County Probation Office.

ESCANABA — Delta County Drug Court is changing lives and making a difference in the community. That was the message Friday from organizers of the specialized court that helps addicts kick their drug habits rather than sentencing them to time behind bars.

Stakeholders in Delta County’s drug court program attended a one-year anniversary celebration of the program at Escanaba City Hall where those who are involved or have contributed to the program were recognized.

“We’re not only changing lives, we’re saving lives,” commented Delta County District Court Judge Steve Parks, who helped create the specialized court to address defendants’ drug addictions so they would not re-offend and stop the chain of crimes that often accompanies drug abuse.

Currently, 13 individuals are participating in the 15- to 24-month program and are committed to sobriety, while another candidate is undergoing the screening process, explained Parks to the room full of people attending the anniversary celebration.

Parks talked about the success of the program, which depends on the dedicated involvement of community members working as a team.

He thanked everyone who makes up that team including court staff, attorneys, law enforcement, community correction workers, wellness personnel, employers, and businesses and other community entities which have supported the program.

The county’s drug court is funded through state and federal grants, said Parks, noting the program is not only curbing repeat offenses, it’s also saving tax dollars which would otherwise fund court and incarceration costs.

For every dollar spent in drug court, a total of $3.36 in taxpayers’ money is saved, amounting to a savings of $3,000 to $13,000 per participant, he said. It costs $25,000 a year to pay for someone in jail and $35,000 a year for each person in prison, most who will repeat criminal behavior and return to the system, he added.

“Drug court in Delta County attacks the root of the problem — addiction,” said Parks, explaining the program is not easy for the participants, which includes high-risk and high-need offenders.

Parks said the drug court program, which is run under specific state standards, is very rigorous and demanding of the participants, some who have commented they would rather go back to jail.

Following an initial screening and assessment of each drug court candidate, participants follow an individualized self-help program with support from various entities throughout four phases, explained Parks.

Participants are subject to three to five random drug testings a week and are held accountable to follow all drug court rules while being closely supervised by court personnel. There are tools to emphasize and reward positive behavior while disciplines, such as jail time, are in place for negative behavior, he said.

“Our mission is to try to get people on track and clean and back into the community, living well,” Parks said, noting serving a sentence behind bars is the alternative for participants who are kicked out of the program.

“This is a chance for them to turn it around,” said Parks, expressing how gratifying the program has been for him to help make a difference and change lives.

Parks also commented he has learned a lot through the process, such as offenders are people with real serious problems and getting clean is very difficult. Addiction corrupts a person’s heart and soul, he added.

What’s really been gratifying, said Parks, is that as participants improve their lives, they also reconnect with their families and true friends, which is a benefit to the entire community.

The first class of drug court participants is expected to graduate this fall, said Parks, who is hopeful graduates will support others in need of help.

“We encourage them to pass it on and pay it forward… helping other people,” he said. “In the end, that’s what it’s really all about — helping each other.”

On behalf of the county board, Delta County Administrator Ryan Bergman commended the drug court team for its work during the past year.

“We know the problems with addiction in the community. There’s no other way to solve this problem,” said Bergman, adding he believes more in the drug court program than any other project.

“It gives people a chance they certainly deserve,” he said, noting statistics show 75 percent of drug court graduates remain clean.

Jerome Kole, of the State Court Administrator’s Office, told those in attendance that studies show drug courts benefit local communities because recidivism is reduced; graduates are not going back to jail and prison but getting jobs and becoming productive citizens.

Currently, there are 82 specialized courts — such as drug court and alcohol sobriety courts — in the state, including 14 of the 15 counties in the Upper Peninsula, said Parks. He is hopeful an alcohol sobriety court will be created in Delta County in the future. 

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net