Judge Joshua Farrell of the 80th District Court in Clare and Gladwin counties was recently notified by the State Court Administrative Office that the Recovery Court for the District Court and the 55th Circuit Court had been awarded a continuation grant of $35,000 for the coming fiscal year under the Michigan Drug Court Program. This grant is the third such award under this program for the Courts, having received a startup grant in October 2011 and a continuation grant in 2012, a total of $90,000. In addition to the grant funds, both Clare and Gladwin counties have contributed funds to supplement the Court. Judge Farrell stated that, “We are most pleased to receive this grant and the support of the Boards of Commissioners allowing us to continue what we believe is a successful beginning”.
After several months of study and training, members of a team within Clare and Gladwin counties consisting of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and treatment providers, recommended that the Court apply for funding through the State to work with defendants coming before the courts with drug or alcohol related charges. The purpose of the Recovery Court is to assist these individuals in addressing their dependence on these substances and to prevent their further involvement in the legal system. The concept of drug and sobriety courts had been successfully implemented in several locations throughout the state and the country.
Using the Drug Court Program startup grant, the Recovery Court hired a coordinator in February 2012 to begin putting together with the necessary manuals and forms to be used in the Court, with the first participants coming into the Court in July of that year. Currently there are nineteen active participants with several pending cases in the two counties. These cases involve both misdemeanor and felony charges.
Potential candidates are referred by the prosecuting attorney, their defense attorney, the Court, a probation officer, or self-referral. The prosecuting attorney initially reviews the request to determine if it meets the legal requirements for admission according to the drug court law. If they meet these requirements, they are then interviewed by the program coordinator in order to determine their likelihood for success and to arrange for a substance abuse assessment. A recommendation is then made to the prosecutor and defense attorney regarding admission to Recovery Court. Once accepted into the program, the cases are supervised by the probation staff of the District Court and the Michigan Department of Corrections. To enter the program, a participant must agree to waiver a number of their rights. “Essentially, they give themselves to the Court for two years”, specified Farrell. Participants are also required to pay a $500 Recovery Court fee in addition to any other fines and costs imposed by the Court.
The Recovery Court program consists of four phases designed to last eighteen to twenty-four months. The participants are required to attend Recovery Court sessions every other week and to report to their probation officer on non-court weeks; to submit to frequent alcohol and drug testing; to attend at 12-step meetings and substance abuse counseling; and, to complete community service. They are required to live in a substance free environment and are subject to random testing and home visits by Court or law enforcement personnel. As they progress through the phases, the requirements are slowly relaxed in preparation for “graduation” from the program.
In addition to the testing, counseling and court supervision, the Court uses a system of incentives and sanctions in order to reward or discipline the behavior of the participants. “The key to the Court is an immediate reaction to positive and negative conduct”, indicated Farrell.
With participants currently situated in each of the four phases, the Court is preparing for its first graduates. “We have watched as several of our participants have struggled to gain sobriety or a break from drug use and are looking forward to having them successfully complete the program within the next couple of months,” stated Farrell.