Drug court gains state ac­cred­i­ta­tion

The Boyertown Area Times - - LOCAL NEWS - By Carl Hessler Jr. chessler@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @Mont­coCourtNews on Twit­ter

NOR­RIS­TOWN >> “We got it! It means a great deal,” Mont­gomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill beamed with pride as the county’s drug treat­ment court over which he pre­sides was awarded ac­cred­i­ta­tion by the Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court.

“When I started the drug court, I knew it was the right thing to do. Ac­cred­i­ta­tion means we are do­ing the right thing. Of­fer­ing a hand up, of­fer­ing treat­ment and re­cov­ery as op­posed to in­car­cer­a­tion for peo­ple who suf­fer a life claim­ing dis­ease was the right thing to do,” O’Neill added as Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court Jus­tice Kevin M. Dougherty pre­sented him with the cer­tifi­cate of ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

Dougherty char­ac­ter­ized O’Neill, who spear­headed the county pro­gram, as a man with a “heart of gold” who has made sure the pro­gram worked, and he praised the county com­mis­sion­ers for fund­ing the spe­cialty court.

“Job well done. Mont­gomery County cit­i­zens, you don’t know how for­tu­nate you are to have peo­ple who truly care about the way of life in this county,” Dougherty said to thun­der­ous ap­plause from county of­fi­cials and drug court par­tic­i­pants and grad­u­ates who packed the cer­e­mo­nial court­room for the cer­e­mony, which was fol­lowed by the court’s 90th grad­u­a­tion event Wed­nes­day night.

The Supreme Court Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Pro­gram for adult sub­stance abuse treat­ment courts was de­vel­oped in 2011 to rec­og­nize pro­grams that fol­low “best prac­tices,” ac­cord­ing to Karen Black­burn, pro­gram ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of Penn­syl­va­nia Courts.

“Ac­cred­i­ta­tion is vol­un­tary, and it’s a very rig­or­ous process … and it is cer­tainly not a rub­ber stamp,” said Black­burn, adding the re­view process in­cludes on­site vis­its, a re­view of the pro­gram’s key com­po­nents and grad­u­a­tion statis­tics.

To date, 35 courts statewide have ap­plied for ac­cred­i­ta­tion and only 24 have earned that dis­tinc­tion, Black­burn added.

The Mont­gomery County Drug Court Pro­gram, es­tab­lished in April 2006 and funded by the county com­mis­sion­ers, is an in­no­va­tive ap­proach to dis­pos­ing of drug-fu­eled crim­i­nal of­fenses in a way that of­fers par­tic­i­pants in­ten­sive help to fight their ad­dic­tions, en­cour­ages them to change their life­styles and of­fers them the op­por­tu­nity to earn a dis­missal of the charges against them or to have their court su­per­vi­sion ter­mi­nated early.

Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram, which is vol­un­tary, is at least 15 months long and may last as long as three years. The length of the pro­gram de­pends on how well an of­fender suc­ceeds in deal­ing with the ad­dic­tion and be­com­ing a pro­duc­tive, crime-free cit­i­zen. The pro­gram typ­i­cally has 130 par­tic­i­pants at any given time.

County Com­mis­sioner Chair­woman Va­lerie Arkoosh and fel­low Com­mis­sioner Joseph Gale pre­sented a procla­ma­tion to O’Neill rec­og­niz­ing the drug treat­ment court “for be­ing an in­te­gral part of the county’s holis­tic ap­proach to com­bat­ting the epidemic of ad­dic­tion.”

“To hear Judge O’Neill tell the story of how drug court came to be is a story of per­sonal pas­sion and com­mit­ment. It re­ally was a la­bor of love for him and a com­mit­ment to make things bet­ter in our com­mu­nity … and it is his pas­sion that has kept drug court go­ing,” said Arkoosh, adding O’Neill pre­sides over the court with “em­pa­thy and in­sight­ful­ness.”

“We know that no com­mu­nity is im­mune to ad­dic­tion and it re­ally does re­quire a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to solve it,” she said.

The com­mis­sion­ers said drug treat­ment courts im­prove sub­stance abuse treat­ment out­comes, re­duce sub­stance abuse and crime and do so at less ex­pense than any other crim­i­nal jus­tice strat­egy.

“Drug treat­ment court makes our com­mu­nity safer by re­duc­ing re­cidi­vism in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem for crimes as­so­ci­ated with ad­dic­tion,” said Gale. “The first 10 years were a tremen­dous ac­com­plish­ment and I look for­ward to fu­ture years of fur­ther ac­com­plish­ments.”

Gale said re­search has shown that drug treat­ment courts save up to $27 for ev­ery $1 in­vested and up to $13,000 for ev­ery in­di­vid­ual they serve. The county’s drug treat­ment court has had about 415 grad­u­ates since its in­cep­tion, and 70 per­cent of the grad­u­ates have re­mained ar­rest free.

The drug court pro­gram uses the co­op­er­a­tive team ap­proach and court re­view ses­sions of a treat­ment court, rather than tra­di­tional ad­ver­sar­ial pro­ceed­ings of crim­i­nal court. The goal is to have a pro­gram and en­vi­ron­ment that is both sup­port­ive and forces of­fend­ers to con­front their ad­dic­tions. It is de­signed to en­cour­age the par­tic­i­pant’s move­ment away from an ad­dic­tive life­style but swiftly im­poses con­se­quences when the par­tic­i­pant re­turns to ad­dic­tive be­hav­iors.

Un­der the pro­gram, the drug court treat­ment team — con­sist­ing of pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers, treat­ment provider rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the judge, a de­fense lawyer and a pros­e­cu­tor — meets weekly to dis­cuss an of­fender’s progress and to de­velop an in­di­vid­u­al­ized strat­egy to as­sist an of­fender in deal­ing with their ad­dic­tion.

Par­tic­i­pants are un­der the su­per­vi­sion of, and reg­u­larly re­port to, a drug court pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer. Of­fend­ers must vol­un­tar­ily com­ply with all of the gen­eral con­di­tions of su­per­vi­sion im­ple­mented by county pro­ba­tion and pa­role of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing treat­ment and fre­quent, ran­dom drug test­ing.

Those who slip up in the pro­gram face puni­tive sanc­tions in­clud­ing brief jail stints, writ­ing as­sign­ments or com­mu­nity ser­vice.

“Ev­ery mem­ber of that team un­der­stands that ad­dic­tion is a dis­ease, it’s a chronic dis­ease, it’s a life­long dis­ease and that it has to be treated that way in or­der to make any true last­ing progress in fight­ing this ter­ri­ble prob­lem,” Arkoosh said.

O’Neill praised all of those who make up the drug court team, in­clud­ing As­sis­tant Pub­lic De­fender Hindi Kranzel, who has rep­re­sented par­tic­i­pants since the pro­gram’s in­cep­tion, As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Cara McMenamin, the pros­e­cu­to­rial li­ai­son to drug court, Michael Gor­don, county chief pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer, the county sher­iff’s depart­ment and the coun­selors from treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties that pro­vide help to par­tic­i­pants. O’Neill also thanked his ju­di­cial col­leagues and the com­mis­sion­ers for their un­wa­ver­ing sup­port.

Gor­don said the ac­cred­i­ta­tion “rec­og­nizes and val­i­dates the hard work” of the par­tic­i­pants and mem­bers of the crim­i­nal jus­tice com­mu­nity that have sup­ported the spe­cialty court pro­gram.

“The pro­gram works,” Gor­don said.

“When I started the drug court, I knew it was the right thing to do. Ac­cred­i­ta­tion means we are do­ing the right thing.” — Mont­gomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill “Ev­ery mem­ber of that team un­der­stands that ad­dic­tion is a dis­ease, it’s a chronic dis­ease, it’s a life­long dis­ease and that it has to be treated that way in or­der to make any true last­ing progress in fight­ing this ter­ri­ble prob­lem.” — Mont­gomery County Com­mis­sioner Chair­woman Va­lerie Arkoosh

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Nikki Golden holds her daugh­ter as Mont­gomery Judge Steven T. O’Neill looks on at Golden’s drug court grad­u­a­tion.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Mont­gomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill pre­sides over the Mont­gomery County Drug Treat­ment Court.

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