County officials celebrated the Floyd County Drug Court program this week.
On Tuesday, Judge-Executive Robbie Williams signed a proclamation recognizing May as Drug Court Month. The fiscal court also provided a lunch to honor drug court staff and other officials.
Williams said, “These judges don’t get paid to do this. Anything that they do, there’s no financial gain. It’s just done out of the kindness of their heart and their commitment to the community.”
Williams said Floyd County is the only county east of Lexington that offers drug courts for veterans and people accused of misdemeanors and felonies. He recognized district judges Eric Hall and Jimmy Marcum and circuit judges Johnny Ray Harris and Thomas Smith for their work with the program, and he also commended Teddy Pack, the drug court program supervisor, case manager Rachel Thacker, peer support specialist Brandy Stafford and Rob Castle, a therapist who helps drug court participants.
Floyd County is one of 113 counties in Kentucky that offer drug court programs.
Hall started the Floyd County Drug Court program in 2004 and it has since expanded to include four drug court judges in district and circuit courts, as well as a “Veteran’s Track” court geared specifically for military veterans with substance abuse problems.
Hall said he’s had about 29 drug court graduations over the years in his courtroom.
“Since it’s a small county and all, the graduates who have come through this program, by and large, have done very, very well,” Hall said. “You know, nothing is 100 percent when it comes to drug treatment, but I’ve got a graduate that’s one of the top people up at Appalachian Wireless now, and I’ve got graduates that’s got their own heating and cooling businesses, and I could just go on down the line. Whenever I see them, they never hesitate. They’ll come up and say, ‘I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys.’”
He said a lot of work goes into the program.
“The real secret behind drug court is longevity,” he said. “The way drug court works is these are all people who are in the court system. They’re charged with crimes … They come into court, everyone of them are facing time, and they’re given this chance.”
He said participants are asked to choose between going to jail or enrolling in drug court.
“We don’t try to sugarcoat anything because drug court is not easy,” Hall said. “Drug court works because we keep them about a year and a half at a minimum. Some take longer than that because they mess up.”
The Floyd County Drug Court program is currently serving 46 people, and it has helped hundreds of people since it launched in this county.
It is open to non-violent offenders who have a substance use disorder. It is geared to last between 15 and 18 months, as participants complete four phases that help them overcome substance abuse. If participants fail to comply with the terms of the program, they are required to start again. After successfully completing the program, their criminal records may be expunged.
The program provides substance abuse treatment, parenting and anger management classes, coping skills, behavior modification and other things participants need to live life without substance abuse.
“I’ve told participants this, drug court looks like the spokes of a wheel,” Hall said. “Staying clean is just one spoke because we want them to get jobs, get an education if they don’t have an education, become productive, complete their obligations of paying fines, child support and all of that. We try to make them a whole person when they leave this program.”
In the last two years, 13 people have graduated from the Floyd County drug court program. It has helped 29 people buy vehicles, 50 people find a job, 25 people enroll in GED or college classes, 12 people get their driver’s license, 30 people gain stable housing. Because of the program, five “drug-free babies” were born, and participants provided more than 8,600 hours of community service in that time. Participants have also paid more than $17,000 collectively in child support, about $5,000 in restitution and about $1,600 in court costs and fines over the past two years.
Hall said the recidivism rate for drug court participants runs at about seven or eight percent in the county.
He and other judges equated their role in this program to that of a parent.
“It’s almost like they’re your children,” Hall said. “You know them inside and out.”
He said drug court makes his job more rewarding.
“Being a judge is tough because you’re sending a lot of people to jail and seeing a lot of tough stuff,” Hall said. “But drug court’s by far the best thing I do.”
Harris said judges meet with participants more frequently when they initially enroll in drug court, then meetings decrease over the 18 months participants are enrolled.
“It’s worth it. It really helps a lot of people,” he said. “It’s got its pluses and minuses, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. You get attached to them, especially when they do good. It’s one of those things. It’s almost like you’re a parent to them.”
He was introduced to drug court when he worked as a prosecutor in Lawrence County years ago and said it taught him not to give up on people.
“I’ve seen it change quite a few lives,” Harris said. “It’s save some people. It absolutely saves lives.”
Smith started drug court in his courtroom about a year after he was elected.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said.
Smith said he is proud of participants who complete the program.
“You get choked up. You watch it and you see someone who you genuinely thought was hopeless, they come in and what they want is to get out of jail. That’s all they want,” he said. “They don’t care about anything but getting out of jail, and get to the next opportunity to use. And when the light comes on, it’s really gratifying to think that you have any small part in it, but when the light comes on, they’ll be the one driving the bus and they’ll be the one who shows how much can come from the opportunity to receive this therapy.”
He said the program is frustrating at times because it involves people who have difficulties managing their lives because of their addictions.
“The ones who do it, are able to do it, they really have accomplished more than I have seen,” Smith said. “Going through school, everybody thinks going through law school, and all of that, you’ve done a lot of work. But you’ve got to show up and put forth some effort. This is an every minute situation and they have to deal with it and they do. So, I’m very proud of them.”
Marcum operates the Veterans Track Drug Court, which specializes in helping military veterans deal with substance abuse issues, as well as post-traumatic stress and other problems that arose through their military service.
“We’ve had two graduations and both of them are doing awesome,” Marcum said. “The first guy, he lost his job, he lost his wife, his house. His kids wouldn’t have anything to do with him. And now, he’s back working. He didn’t get the relationship with his wife back, but he got the relationship with his children back. He’s doing awesome.”
He said his second graduate was an Air Force nurse.
“When she come into the program, she was living in her car,” he said. “She was homeless, and now she’s got her nursing license back and she’s working two or three jobs. She’s doing awesome.”
He and other judges commented the drug court staff, saying they “do the major lifting” to help these participants.