Substance abuse sufferers get a second chance in drug court

From Denver TV9 NBC

DENVER - The Denver Drug Court is a system that does more than give authority over users; it also cares about them.

The court is specialized, designed to give non- violent drug offenders the responsibility of their substance abuse through probation supervision and close judicial oversight.

According to General Barry McCaffrey, the former U. S. Drug Czar, drug courts save taxpayers money.

"If you're chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol and you've been arrested [multiple] times during the year, you're a burden on the taxpayer," McCaffrey, w ho is speaking at a meeting on drug courts Thursday, told 9NEWS. "We're locking you up for $25,000 a year. If we get you in a drug court system, you'll end up in treatment, dealing with your issues. Now we're going to save [taxpayers] money."

The Denver District Attorney's Office says drug court frees up jail space and decreases the number of possession cases given to District Court.

Offenders move quickly through the court process so they can start treatment almost immediately.

According to the Denver District Attorney's Office, it takes, on average, about three months to process a drug case. In drug court, the time is reduced to 3 to 5 days.

Offenders who want to take part in the court plead guilty to their charges and are sentenced to drug court supervision.

First-time offenders accused of possessing small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are eligible for drug court.

Offender are ineligible if they are charged with possession of more than 25 grams of a substance with the intention of selling it, any convictions involving injury or death, any convictions involving possession or use of a weapon, any sex-related crime, or those whose criminal history and treatment diagnosis show a history of violent behavior.

People that live outside the Denver metro area or are currently on parole are also ineligible.

When they go to drug court, offenders' drug problems are assessed and a supervision plan is given to them. A supervision plan includes random drug testing, treatment, regular court reviews, fines and restitution, community service and increasingly severe sanctions, which range from privilege losses to jail time, for non-compliance.

Three phases must be completed in order to graduate from drug court. Each phase has different requirements that must be met in order to move on to the next one. After the third phase is completed, an offender graduates.

In many cases, according to the District Attorney's Office, offenders overcome substance abuse problems and become productive members of their communities. Some even become part of a family again.

"A year later [after treatment]," McCaffrey said. "You've got a graduation from drug court where she or he is standing there holding hands with their children they've regained."

There are more than 2,140 drug courts in operation across the country and another 284 are being planned. Denver's drug court has been going on since 1994.

To help keep kids off drugs and out of any courts, McCaffrey offers some advice to parents.

"Organized sports, going to church, eating supper [together],"McCaffrey said. "Talking to them and saying 'look, in this family we don't smoke pot.'"

(KUSA-TV 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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