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DHS news release

May 9, 2008

General contact: Ken Palke, 503-947-5286
Program contacts: C.J. Reid, DHS, 503-945-9813;
Craig Prins, Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, 503-378-4858

Governor praises 47 drug courts in May proclamation

In 47 courtrooms around the state hundreds of Oregonians are getting a chance to turn their lives around -- and if they're successful, to avoid jail and break the cycle of drug use, addiction and criminal behavior.

Men and women who've committed non-violent drug offenses enter drug court voluntarily, but they must earn their way out of the criminal justice system by going through a long-term, structured, supervised and coordinated multi-agency treatment program.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has proclaimed May as Drug Court Month in Oregon to recognize the success of these courts, which are located in 27 counties.

The Governor's proclamation noted that drug courts reduce addiction, crime and recidivism while promoting stable, healthy families and safe communities.

Men and women in drug court must be accountable and active in their recovery. They receive intensive judicial supervision, addiction treatment and random drug testing, and many attend meetings of recovery support groups while working with a program sponsor.

Drug courts are able to help people break addictions and criminal behavior thanks to support from prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment providers, mental health and rehabilitation professionals, law enforcement officials, corrections officers, researchers and educators.

Drug court in action

During a recent Friday drug court session at the Marion County Courthouse in Salem, people packed into Judge Dennis Graves' courtroom to make their weekly progress reports.

Most of the three dozen participants, ranging in age from 18 to 60, arrived well before the 10 a.m. starting time. Many were attired in casual business clothing and some brought their young children, parents or grandparents.

Families are important to drug court because their support is needed to help participants break their addictions and pattern of illegal activities, Graves said.

About two dozen individuals appeared before Graves during the two-hour court session. Each summarized his or her week's activities, reporting on school or work attendance, drug testing, job hunting, medications, treatment, probation officer meetings and other court requirements.

Participants must remain in court until the session ends so that individual victories, setbacks and lessons are shared with everyone. The judge admonished several persons for missing appointments or laxity in looking for work. A mother of five was handcuffed and ordered to spend the weekend in jail for lying and violating a court order.

Women -- many working to get children released from foster care -- make up 65 percent of his caseload, said Graves. Keeping families together helps in recovery and reduces support costs for the community, he said.

During court Graves was generous with his praise, congratulating participants for another good week, or for entering a less-restrictive phase of the program, or for nearing graduation. Peer support is invited, and spirited applause peppered the courtroom each time a participant reported a successful week.

Graduating (which includes dismissal of charges) from Judge Graves' drug court isn't easy. Participants must spend a year in the program, be clean and sober for 180 days, and complete drug addiction treatment. Those without a high school diploma also must earn a GED certificate.

Recovering from addiction

The Oregon Department of Human Services Addictions and Mental Health Division supports services that are essential to drug courts, such as outpatient and residential treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, detoxification, mental health treatment, and housing and peer support services aimed at recovery.

"A comprehensive array of treatment and support services addressing addiction is an essential element of any successful drug court," said Karen Wheeler, DHS addictions policy administrator.

Evidence shows that drug courts help reduce drug use and arrests, and may reduce corrections costs for counties, according to the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which administers drug court grants.

But perhaps the most important incentive to participants is that drug courts consistently improve the living situation, income and employment of its graduates.