Eleven years after its beginnings in DeKalb County, the Recovery Court program (formerly known as Drug Court) has grown and is making a difference in the lives of more people, juveniles and adults.
Recovery Court for adults, started by DeKalb County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook, II in 2006, provides an alternative to incarceration for eligible non-violent offenders, who are deemed substance dependent. Judge Cook began the recovery court program for juveniles in 2002.
“Our capacity is 25. We have 22 participants today and 8 people waiting. We have 8 people who have applied. We have treated over 150 people with a 65% graduation rate. Seven drug free babies have been born to mothers in our program and our recidivism rate, repeat offenders is only one percent. We track three years out,” said Norene Puckett, Coordinator of the DeKalb County Recovery Court Program.
Mark Young, who is on track to graduate soon, said the DeKalb County Recovery Court Program has been a life changing experience for him.
“I started off and had some charges in DeKalb County. I had a DUI and a violation of probation. Through that I got in contact with Recovery Court, filled out an application, and went in front of Judge Cook and got approved. They sent me to treatment,” said Young.
Although he experienced some setbacks along the way, Young said he is a changed man today because of this program.
“From that time to now I have had multiple setbacks. I have done things wrong along the way but the judge has been just and fair. He has never given up on me. He has always given me the benefit of the doubt in anything I’ve ever done. Even when I wasn’t doing right, he was there for me. About nine months ago, the judge and the panel decided to send me to Savannah Georgia to Mission Teens, a mission Bible training center. That has been a life changing experience,” he said.
Young said he has learned to take control of his life and be more responsible through the Recovery Court Program and would recommend it to others.
“The court panel never gives up on you. They are one of the best support groups to have on your side. They teach you how to hold yourself accountable by them holding you accountable. That’s what it takes to get through this whole addiction process. You’ve got to have lots of support and people who are there for you in a time of need. You’ve got to have somebody to turn to and somebody to call for help. If you are struggling with addiction you just have to be willing to seek change first before change can take place. Humble yourself enough to be able to ask for help. Addiction is a hard battle but if I can change, anyone can change,” said Young.
Recovery courts are a nationwide program which started 28 years ago in Miami, Florida. Today there are more than 3,000 recovery courts across the country.
After Judge Cook learned more about the success of Recovery Courts, he decided to start them here.
“Judge John Hudson of Cookeville and I were the first judges in the state to have a juvenile drug court program. It did so well in about a three year period that we got together and decided to have an adult drug court. We went to three separate one week period trainings in 2005 and then began the adult drug court program in 2006,” he said.
According to Judge Cook, addiction is not a condition but a disease and treating it successfully can make a major difference in the rate of crime.
“Probably 80-90% of the crimes in DeKalb County are some way or another related to drugs or alcohol. Many people who are on drugs or alcohol are stealing to try and get money for more drugs, forging checks on their parents, stealing credit cards and running them up, just things like that. It became the revolving door for jail. Unfortunately, there are still people who think that drug addiction is not a disease. That it is just a condition. They say “why don’t you just quit”? That is not what science has shown us over the years. Not that it is comparable to cancer, but when someone says “ just quit” and don’t take those pills anymore it’s almost like telling someone who has a tumor in their stomach, just reach in there and get it and throw it away and you’ll be okay. That’s just not the way it works. In fact, as the years have clicked by more and more of the science has been that addiction has indeed been a disease affecting the brain in various ways. When drug courts began, generally they were a one year program, divided into four different phases of three months each. We found out early on that one year just gets your toe wet. What science now shows is that it takes the brain at least a year of abstinence from drugs to even have the ability to try and stay abstinent. That’s the struggle these people have, especially when they first begin any type of program. The longer they are in the easier it becomes. But now two to three years is probably an average for our people to be in drug court,” he said..
Judge Cook said the program is an alternative to incarceration.
“The people in our program are non-violent offenders. They are people who are our next door neighbors. After all, spending $20,000 a year putting them in jail as opposed to approximately $5,000 a year treating them is a no brainer. One of my philosophies for many years has been as far as jail, we need to incarcerate the people that we are afraid of and treat the ones we’re mad at. Most of the drug people we all know, our family members that steal our credit cards or our guns and sell them for drugs, we’re not afraid of them. We’re just angry. We’re mad at them and those are the ones we need to treat,” said Judge Cook.
Participants are required to stay drug free and sober, get a job, and meet all other conditions expected of them
“They are drug tested frequently. We see them in drug court once a week. They have to go to probation. They have treatment they go to. There are meetings. There is something every single day. We keep our thumb on them and we have to. But it is so rewarding especially when we see people who have had their children taken by DCS because of their addiction and then they get their kids back. Because one thing I have learned as juvenile judge is it doesn’t matter how sorry a parent is, those kids love them and want to be with them. It is so rewarding when they regain custody. They get a job. They get housing and they become responsible, respectable people. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Puckett added that those who do well in the program are rewarded and those who don’t are sanctioned.
“ We as a team get together every week. We staff every person’s case in the program, and we go over what is going on with them. Are they doing good or bad?. If they have messed up some way, missed a meeting, failed a drug screen, or any kind of infraction in our program we issue a sanction that week. There is immediate response to any type of negative behavior. Let’s say someone failed a drug screen. The case manager would explain what’s going on in the person’s life. The treatment provider may talk about what they’re doing in treatment and the progress they are making or barriers they are having, and then the probation officer would say, for example, yes on March 1 he failed for marijuana. We, as a team, would then come up with recommendations to help this person and determine what the sanction should be for the negative behavior, but Judge Cook has ultimate say on the sanctions. We also reward them for positive things such as getting a job, GED or things like that,” said Puckett.
Team members who oversee the program locally in addition to Judge Cook and Recovery Court Coordinator Puckett are Sheriff Patrick Ray, Assistant District Attorney General Stephanie Johnson, John and Kay Quintero from Haven of Hope, primary treatment providers; Assistant Public Defender Scott Grissom, Probation Officer Jay Colton, Juvenile Case Manager Kristy Longmire, and Adult Case Manager Rhonda Harpole.
For more information about the Recovery Court Program call 615-215-8690 or visit the office on the main floor of the courthouse.
Judge Cook, Recovery Court Coordinator Puckett, and Recovery Court participant Mark Young appeared on WJLE's Tech Talk program Thursday morning hosted by Dan Delacruz of Smithville Computer who sponsors the weekly show.