Wednesday marked five years of Inyo County Drug Court work to change the lives of people who might have been considered lost causes.
Tired of seeing the same people cycle through the criminal justice system, Judge Dean Stout teamed up with the Probation Department, the District Attorneys Office, the Alpine Center for Disease and Recovery, Inyo Public Defenders, along with many others, including the local faith community, to create the Drug Court.
The program combines positive reinforcement and addiction treatment with consequences such as jail or prison if a participant fails. This hybrid was created because neither treatment alone nor incarceration was working. We sent a lot of addicts to prison that came out addicts, Judge Stout explained, adding that, we were failing.
The way it works is that a person admitted to the program waives many rights, but if they get clean and stay clean, they can have a charge or conviction dropped. The 18-month program includes one-on-one counseling, a weekly appearance in court, three group meetings a week, 12 step meetings, at least three drug tests a week, check-ins with probation and a zero tolerance alcohol policy. The participants also have to pay for much of their treatment. If a person slips up, they may find themselves in jail. If they slip up too much, they go back to the regular court process to face the charges against them.
The program saves the state money in incarceration costs, but Judge Stout says that it also saves lives. While some people have failed, many others have become productive members of the community, living clean and sober lives as our neighbors, friends, and family. Many of these same people could have been in prison right now, if it were not for the community effort that is the Drug Court. One drug court graduate was about to serve over 11 years in state prison, but is now working in the community, Stout explained.
Over the five years the Drug Court has operated, 60 people have been accepted into the program, 31 people have graduated already, and 16 are currently in the program. Over the years 13 people have been kicked out.
The drug court has been a work in progress. When the program first started, people on probation for misdemeanor charges were admitted. Judge Stout called that a mistake, and explained that the program worked best for long term addicts, who faced felony convictions and prison time.
While some people didn’t make it through the program to lead clean and sober lives, the lives that were changed for the better have led Judge Stout to conclude that the Drug Court has been a success. Toward the end of Wednesday’s five-year celebration, before the cake, Judge Stout said he was grateful for the opportunity to see the transformation of lives, adding that among all his work in the courts, this program is the best thing I do.