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Piedmont circuit to launch drug court
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The Piedmont Circuit District Attorney’s office is preparing a new way to deal with drug users in Barrow, Banks and Jackson counties, a way to provide treatment and decrease recidivism, its organizers say.

The newly-created Piedmont Circuit Drug and Mental Health Court likely will begin in Barrow County in April, serving 30-35 participants in its early stages.

“The difference between drug court and regular court at the felony level is rather than just sitting in prison or jail, we give offenders the opportunity for treatment. Right now, there are no ties to treatment, but with the new program it will be more integrated,” Program Coordinator Sammy Hale said.

“They will visit treatment providers, attend meetings here (at the courthouse) and we’ll have a drug testing lab.”

Hall, Clarke and Gwinnett counties operate similar courts that have acted as models for the program in the Piedmont Circuit, said Hale, who announced the program has been approved for the 2010 Adult Drug Court Planning Initiative training, which will be held March 22-26 in Nashville, Tenn.

By providing treatment, the district attorney’s office hopes to keep drug users from re-offending and using taxpayer dollars to return to jail, Hale said. And in order to be effective, the office will try to get participants into the program within 20 days of their arrest.

“We’ll be putting a picket fence around the individual, making a very close-knit, family-oriented program. There will be no way out,” Hale said. “They’ll be connected to drug court on a daily basis and will have no idle time to go back out and relapse.”

The court will be fee-based, but Hale said the office is working to provide opportunities for individuals to get reduced rates. Local Drug Abuse Treatment and Education funds likely will be available for indigent participants, as well as service work programs for participants to earn a smaller fee for treatment.

Hale said he worked with other local agencies, including the city of Winder and the sheriff’s department, to decide how to use the grant money. And rather than divvying up the funds between agencies, Hale said he was pleased that they all agreed on the drug court, which will require a communitywide effort to be successful.

The court will be comprised of a superior court judge, director of drug court, drug court coordinator, an alternate judge, assistant district attorney, public defender, law enforcement officer, probate officer, treatment provider and evaluator, Hale said.

The program is scheduled to get under way in spring 2010 and requires a voluntary commitment of at least 18 months from participants, he said.

Participants must be clean for at least 90 days before they can graduate from the program, but breaking a drug-use habit can take longer than that.

“You will relapse,” Hale said. “But it’s our job to help you through that, rather than just going back to jail.”

Superior Court Judge Currie Mingledorff will be the presiding judge and Hale said he will provide participants with incentives and sanctions. For instance, if a lab test shows that a participant used drugs while in the program, he or she would be ordered more community service.

Superior Court Judges David Motes and Joseph Booth will make referrals to the program.

District Attorney Brad Smith said he’s “hopeful of the benefit the drug court could bring.”

The $342,000 grant, from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia, expires in three years, but Smith said he hopes to make the drug court self-sustaining.

The drug court is collaborating with various community organizations, including the Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, Clerk of Superior Court, Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, Department of Corrections, Advantage Behavioral Health Services, Circle of Recovery, The Light Community Outreach, Winder Housing Authority, Barrow County Schools, CASA, W-B Coalition for Adult & Continuing Education, Department of Family & Children Service, Department of Labor and a host of other agencies.

“Throughout the planning process, the drug court team will be reaching out to the community with drug abuse education efforts while also seeking to connect participants to needed services such as jobs,” Hale said.

For more information about the program, contact Hale at 770-307-3040, ext. 4492.

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