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DHS news release


This guest opinion by Marion County drug court judge Dennis Graves was published by the Salem Statesman Journal on Aug. 10, 2006.


By Dennis Graves

As a result of longtime meth use, the woman standing before me in Marion County Adult Drug Court had a skeletal body and sores on her skin and had given up her 3-year-old child to foster care. She was six months pregnant. And she couldn't read.

Because she was unable to stop using drugs, I sent her to the county jail until she was clean enough to go into treatment.

Today, this drug-free woman is raising both children, working a full-time job and reading books to her kids.

She is anecdotal evidence of what the state Department of Human Services has just accepted as fact: Drug courts are a research-supported means of helping nonviolent offenders become clean, sober and law-abiding.

The state has accepted drug courts as an "evidence-based practice," important because the Legislature now requires state agencies to spend increasing shares of treatment dollars on proven methods.

It's fitting that the state should conclude this as Marion County's adult drug court celebrates its fifth year of operation.

The "evidence-based practice" designation is significant since it could result in funding for more drug courts across the state and greater capacity in existing drug courts. Oregon now has drug courts in 26 of its 36 counties, and I estimate that the number of eligible offenders who could benefit from Marion County adult drug court is four times what I see in court.

For some offenders, drug court is the gold standard.

Every Friday morning, about 25 offenders appear before me to describe how they're doing in meeting requirements to graduate: be to court on time, complete addiction treatment, attend three 12-step meetings a week, get a job, meet regularly with their probation officer, get a GED (unless exempted by disability), enroll in a parenting class (if they have children, which most do) and pass random unannounced urinalyses.

For graduates of adult drug court, the offense that brought them here is dismissed and they serve no prison time. But it isn't an easy out: Sanctions (including jail) for failure to follow the court's orders are swift, certain and intended to motivate.

Graduates parent their children, which is good for the kids and saves taxpayers foster-care costs. They have a job, pay taxes and earn a GED that boosts lifetime earnings. They're less likely to commit new crimes, significant because a state prison inmate costs $24,650 per year. In fact, just 7.14 percent of offenders in the Marion County court had new felonies or misdemeanors within three years of graduating, compared with 28 percent for drug offenders released from our state prisons.

A team -- district attorney, defense attorney, child-welfare caseworker, treatment provider, mental-health professional, probation officer and others -- meet with me weekly to ensure that offenders are held accountable, which is essential to their success. Offenders also receive the bonus of tutoring, mentoring and transportation from local faith-based organizations.

For drug-court judges across Oregon, the state's acceptance of drug courts as an evidence-based practice validates the positive changes in people's lives we witness every day.

Marion County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Graves of Salem has presided over Marion County Adult Drug Court since its inception in 2001.