Therapeutic drug and DUI courts work, and the state of Arizona is reaping the benefits.
Therapeutic court programs are attaining nationwide support. Early prototypes of these programs began in Ohio and Maryland over 30 years ago when it became evident that punishment was ineffective in changing addictive behavior. Many options were explored, and the verdict came in – therapeutic courts work. The first drug court in Prescott, Arizona, began in 2000.
Today, the annual conferences held by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals bring together drug court providers from across the United States. Professionals collaborate and share their experiences in breakout sessions that provide cutting edge, evidence-based practices designed to improve these criminal justice programs.
In 2015, at the Arizona Problem Solving Court Conference, held annually in Prescott, Arizona, Matt Sorum took the stage to share his love for drug courts, DUI courts and veterans’ treatment courts. Sorum has sold over 60 million albums with three classic bands: The Cult, Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver. He’s a five-time Grammy nominee, one-time Grammy winner, two-time MTV Award winner and a 2012 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
When not on stage or in the studio, Sorum lives a life of service. He has been a longtime champion of drug courts. His message to attendees was clear: they are the real rock stars. He thanked them for their tireless work saving the lives of those struggling with addiction and mental health issues. He said, “You believe in us when we can’t believe in ourselves.”
The individuals going through the therapeutic courts are the ones who make this movement so powerful and infectious. Drug and DUI court participants reflect all segments of the community; most have been using drugs for many years. The majority have previously served jail or prison time for drug-related offenses.
Unlike traditional treatment programs, becoming clean and sober is just the first step toward drug and DUI court graduation. Most participants are required to complete a sober living housing program, and either intensive outpatient or inpatient treatment. They must also maintain employment, be current in all financial obligations – including drug court fees – and have a sponsor in the community. Many are required to perform service hours where they give back to their community.
Drug courts goals for participants include reductions in drug usage and recidivism. Both goals are being achieved by graduates. But outcomes go far beyond these original goals: the drug-free babies born to drug court participants; the reunification of hundreds of families, as parents regain or are able to retain custody of their children; education and vocational training and job placements for participants; to name just a few.
Therapeutic drug and DUI courts provide a second chance for individuals. Instead of incarceration, they are offered a second chance, perhaps their last chance, to turn their lives around and be productive members of society. While not every participant is a success story, therapeutic court programs offer tools and education to help participants succeed. If they fail the program, it is usually because they are not ready or able to make the necessary life changes. In these cases, the individuals most often end up incarcerated.
Courtroom graduation ceremonies in Yavapai County, Arizona, began in 2000. Today, local communities are welcome to participate in the graduation ceremonies both to celebrate the success stories and to be educated about therapeutic courts. Community graduation ceremonies in Yavapai County began in 2015 and are held quarterly. The hope is that community members will see the impact of these court programs and, more importantly, the need for community support.
Therapeutic courts work! They are a win-win situation for the participants and the community. Bill Orick graduated from the Prescott, Arizona, drug court in 2004. Today, he is an active part of the Twelve Step community and is now the program director of Triple Point Recovery, a structured sober living program. At a recent graduation ceremony, Bill shared that drug court saved his life. Today, Bill is often referred to as a “recovery guru.” He has mentored and sponsored many addicts and never gives up on anyone. He attributes his success and sobriety to his Higher Power and feels he has been called to work with addicts.
Louie Gomez graduated from the Prescott Drug Court in 2003. He was a heroin addict for many years. He didn’t think he would be chosen for drug court; but he was able to attend and complete it; and it rocked his world. He had been so entrenched in his drug use that he had to make major life changes. As he embraced his sobriety “one day at a time” and developed a relationship with God, he noticed his life transforming.
Louie and his wife, Angel, met in drug court; and they now have an eleven-year-old son. He never imagined he could become a successful business owner. Today he owns Prescott Tire Pros. He also served on the board of directors of a local mental health clinic for over eight years. His motto is to give back, and indeed he does. He has given many individuals committed to their recovery a chance to work for him. In addition, he graciously provided graduation gowns for the recent DUI and drug court graduations.
John Snyder, a 2008 drug court graduate, now owns a construction company. Snyder began using drugs at age eight, and said he had spent over 17 years in and out of prison. He shared, “When I got out, my youngest daughter was already 17 and had a child of her own. I missed all my kids’ lives. My family had cut off ties.”
“In [Twelve Step programs], they suggest you share your life and your secrets with a whole lot of people,” Snyder explained. “By the time I got serious about myself, I was already 38. All those years I had been hiding behind drugs and alcohol, I had never grown mentally, spiritually or emotionally.” He became serious about recovery while in prison. “When I went to the drug court program, I did what they told me to do. I was just tired of going to prison. Today, I have a fiancé and a three-year-old little girl who loves me. I have a business, and I employ people like me who no one else will hire.”
These and many other personal stories are powerful examples of the effectiveness of drug and DUI courts. These courts change lives, one person at a time. Visit the drug court near you. Celebrate and support local recovery. Your community will benefit from your support.
Terri Stasiuk is a twelve-year employee of the Yavapai County Adult Probation Department in Prescott, Arizona. Half of her career has been in drug and DUI court as a surveillance officer and probation officer. She notes, “Working with specialty courts is by far the most fulfilling job I have ever held.”