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McHenry County Drug Court program marks 1 year

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Drug Court Program is about to turn 1 year old.

Since the program began Dec. 1, 2011, 41 people have been accepted.

All are high-risk, high-need recidivist offenders who had a total of 338 arrests in McHenry County before entering the specialized court program.

There have been only five arrests of those who’ve entered the program, said Scott Block, director of special projects for McHenry County.

Rather than jail or prison, drug court participants take an intensive path of personalized treatment and are required to check in with program officials frequently.

It isn’t easy.

“Not only are they seeing the judge every two weeks, they’re seeing their probation officers at least twice a week,” Court Administrator Dan Wallis said. “They’re getting drug tested twice a week, which might be different times than they’re seeing their probation officer ... and then you have treatment.”

On top of treatment, they also may go to Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

There are consequences for failure to do what’s required, with sanctions varying from reading a paper aloud to the court about why he or she relapsed to being put back in jail.

“When somebody has numerous relapses and can’t seem to stop on their own, for their safety and the safety of the public, we’ve remanded them and held them in custody until we found inpatient [treatment] beds,” Block said.

One of the requirements to graduate from the program is a full year of sobriety.

The first graduation is expected around May, Block said.

Cost studies for McHenry County’s program have not yet been completed, but drug courts cost on average about $4,000 to $12,000 a year for each participant, Block said.

At the national level, it costs about $23,000 a year to house one inmate, Block said, and prisons also have a recidivism rate of about 52 percent.

The county’s other specialty court for defendants with mental health issues has a less than 15 percent recidivism rate.

“When you hear numbers that 52 percent of people who go to prison are going to commit a new offense, that means a new victim and more contact with law enforcement,” Wallis said. “And the numbers are even higher for the individuals who are clinically addicted. To continue to do business the way we’ve always done it, we’re going to get the same results.”

Of the 41 drug court participants, 38 have been diagnosed with heroin addiction, and nearly all had progressed to injecting it, Block said.

The drug is highly addictive and debilitating, and for those who need inpatient treatment, they won’t find it in McHenry County.

The lack of inpatient beds presents a huge challenge, Block said.

“We have to work extremely hard to find state-funded beds because most of these people are uninsured,” Block said. “So there’s wait lists you’re up against.”

Ideally, a contract will be developed with an inpatient provider so there would always be openings for drug court participants, Block said.

“That’s one of the things we really need to address in the near future,” he said.

Finding jobs for participants – specifically, employers who will give them a chance – is another challenge.

But Wallis and Block are encouraged by the results of one year of drug court on the books.

So far, 1,283 drug screens have been performed, with 89 coming back positive.

“These are individuals who were using alcohol and drugs up to the day they came into our program,” Block said. “So there’s a significant reduction in the amount of substance abuse that we’ve seen while people are involved in our drug court.”

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