Drug Court helping to change lives for better

Published 3:48 pm Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nationwide, about 75 percent of those who are arrested for a drug-related crime are arrested a second time within a year.

That’s not the case in Shelby County.

Shelby County Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Bostick said among graduates of the Shelby County Drug Court Program, developed by Circuit Court Judge Michael Joiner in 2003, the number arrested again within a year of completing that program is just 7.8 percent.

Since the beginning of the program in 2003, only 20 percent of those who have graduated from it have been arrested a second time.

“That’s a lot better than the national average,” Bostick said.

The innovative program’s results are so impressive Joiner has been tapped to help implement similar programs in all Alabama counties.

Bostick and Joiner were guest speakers at the Greater Shelby Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon at the Pelham Civic Complex.

Joiner said he developed the program as an alternative to sending first-time offenders to jail or letting them go on probation.

“After about eight years on the bench, I realized I was sentencing the same people over and over again,” he said.

Drug offenders come from every race and economic circumstance, he said.

Joiner described three teenage boys who came before his court at different times. He said one was raised in a rural environment, another was from the inner city, and the other from a small town. Their home lives varied greatly, as did their opportunities for education.

“What they have in common is that I sentenced all three of them to death row,” Joiner said. He said each committed terrible criminal acts, but did so because they were involved in some way with drugs and alcohol.

“Sending people to prison just doesn’t work,” Joiner said. In the last 20 years, the prison population in America has doubled – growing from 1.3 million incarcerated to 2.3 million.

“Putting more people in prison is not the right answer socially or economically,” Joiner said.

Shelby County’s Drug Court, Bostick said, is “coerced drug treatment.”

The program, which takes between a year and 18 months to complete, requires the offender to undergo counseling, attending meetings like Alcoholic Anonymous and similar drug-education classes, appear before the Drug Court judge numerous times during the program, as well as undergo random drug testing 18 times per month.

“It’s easier to just plead guilty and be sentenced. But, if you do that, you have that conviction on your record and you lose your driver’s license,” Joiner said. “This is a hard, hard program. However, when an offender completes the program successfully, his case is dismissed.”

For more information on drug courts, visit allrise.org.