Drug court aims to reduce addiction

Tryve Bracken

MISSION: The mission of the 18th Judicial Drug Court is to reduce adult offender abuse and addiction to alcohol and other mood-altering chemicals, thus decreasing related criminal activity. The court also seeks to reduce the rate of incarceration in the state and protect public safety. Believe is treating the individual's substance abuse problem is key to breaking the cycle.

REFERRAL PROCESS: Potential clients or defendants are referred to the District Attorney's office. If assessment indicates clinical suitability, then a guilty plea is entered with stipulation that sentencing is deferred and defendant will be placed on supervised probation and will compete the Drug Court Program. If the defendant does not complete the program, the judge may revoke probation and impose sentence.

BACKGROUND: The Drug Court Program was created in 2001. To date, 298 clients have entered the program and 164 have successfully completed the requirements. Judge Alvin Batiste is currently the volunteer judge for the court. The program has two fulltime employees and works closely with the District Attorney's office and the Iberville Parish Council adds support. The program office is located across from the DA office at the courthouse in Plaquemine. The program maintains an average of 35-40 clients. The La. State Supreme Court funds the program at $4,500 per client expenditure.

Since its inception, six drug-free babies have been born to drug-free mothers in the program. Checks were made through pregnancy and post-born.

PROGRAM BREAKDOWN: There are four phases to the Drug Court Program. The first phase includes daily calls to the court, two random drug screens per week, three group sessions and three meetings per week, and status hearings weekly to report progress to the judge. This runs two to three months.

The second phase includes the same procedures as phase one with the exception of a bi-weekly progress report to the judge. The time period is four to six months.

The third phase includes daily calls, one random drug screen a week, continued sessions and meetings, and a bi-weekly progress report. The time period is three to six months.

The fourth phase includes daily calls, random drug screens at discretion of staff one group session and one meeting per week, and status hearings every ninety days reported to judge. This time lasts for three to six months.

Treatment is provided by the Iberville Parish Substance Abuse Center, a state approved facility.

To complete program client must participate in the full outpatient treatment, have paid and satisfied all conditions of their probation set by the court, are to get a GED, if they do not have a diploma, enroll in school or find fulltime employment, and make restitution to community/victims of their actions. Clients are not released from program unless they show a sober living and stability.

Clients must have 90 consecutive days of sobriety. If they are nearing the end of the program and slip up, they are pushed back and must engage in continued treatment. The longest stay in the program has been 34 months and the average time in the program through last year was a 19-month stay.

ELIGIBLITY: Not allowed are defendants with prior felony convictions for crimes of violence (including domestic), nor aggravated burglary or simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling, cannot have a DWI that resulted in the death of a person, and cannot be charged with multiple counts of distribution, PWID, production, manufacture, or cultivation of CDS. There are other program participation difficulties of distance from court, mental or emotion problems, non-suspendable sentences, and medical conditions of immediate attention.

COMPLETION: Clients completing the program will be eligible for early termination of their probation and can apply to have their records expunged.

KEY TO THE PROGRAM: Facts are the program has been more cost effective than imprisonment and has lessened overcrowding of state prison population and helps lessen the burden on state services in regards to cost of supporting children born of drug abusing mothers.