Drug Court offers hope

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Waiting to go in to Shelby County District Courtroom No. 5 on Friday morning sits a grandmother, a husband, a businessman and a young housewife.

They barely know each other, and yet they have an understanding. They see each other every week, and yet they hope they’ll never have to see one another at court again.

There are more than 300 others just like them, and each has a similar story to tell. They find their common ground in the fact that they are recovering drug offenders.

The Shelby County Drug Court gives first-time drug offenders a chance at avoiding jail time while, at the same time,

helping them with their recovery from addiction and substance abuse.

David Horn, executive director of Shelby County Community Corrections Corporation, said this type of court, which was founded nationwide in the 1970s, is an alternative to traditional court processes.

&uot;We offer intensive treatment to drug offenders instead of just locking them up,&uot; Horn said. &uot;If they really want to get off drugs, this will help them accomplish that.&uot;

The court meets every Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the Shelby County Courthouse, and Horn said there are two different types of programs that offenders can enroll in.

&uot;There are two tracks that offenders can go on,&uot; he said. &uot;Track one is for lesser drug crimes and people who are not suffering from addiction. Track two is more intensive and is set up for people with a criminal history or substance abuse problems.&uot;

Regardless of which track a person takes, to graduate from the court, offenders are put through counseling and other exercises, they must stay clean of drugs for one full year and they must report to the court on a regular basis depending on the type of offense they committed.

&uot;We’re in the business of changing people’s lives,&uot; Horn said. &uot;We’re not seeing the same people back in court, so we know that the program is effective.&uot;

The court is presided over by Shelby County District Court Judge Michael Joiner and has a number of people from different government and medical agencies who volunteer to sit on the court.

&uot;We hope that these folks will receive the tools they need to deal with their addictions,&uot; Joiner said. &uot;They can also take examples from each other.&uot;

Joiner said that the court is a cost effective way of dealing with drug offenders and that it also serves as an effective treatment.

&uot;Drug court works,&uot; he said. &uot;National statistics show that it is an effective form of dealing with addicts.&uot;

Horn said that the court came about because of judges who were tired of seeing repeat offenders in their courtroom.

&uot;Oftentimes when a person is convicted of a drug crime they’re thrown in prison,&uot; he said. &uot;But simply giving them jail time doesn’t solve the real problem. The real problem is in their addiction and that is what we target.&uot;

Shelby County is not alone in its endeavor to help people with drug abuse problems.

Eighteen Alabama counties currently run similar courts for adults and six counties including Shelby have courts for juveniles as well.

&uot;This is something that everyone knows needs to happen,&uot; Horn said.

&uot;It’s unbelievable, in our county especially, how dedicated people are to making the drug court work.&uot;

For anyone interested in the Shelby County Drug Court they can call Horn at 669-8965 or attend a drug court session