WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County’s Treatment Court is an open door for those looking to get help and become productive members of society, county Judge William Amesbury said Wednesday.
Without the treatment court option, participants would throw away their lives and create a financial burden for taxpayers who would have to lodge them at the county prison, Amesbury said before 13 people newly graduated from the programwith criminal charges expunged from their records.
“Those addicted to alcohol, prescription … or controlled substances continue to suffer day to day,” Amesbury said. “Addiction is a well-defined medical problem. (Treatment court provides) an opportunity to do something positive … with their life rather than spend time in jail.”
To be part of the treatment court, participants must be older than 18 and have committed only nonviolent crimes as a result of their addictions.
A team of professionals examines each case to decide if offenders should be included in the program and what treatment should be given to the individual. That team follows the person as he or she advances through the program with the ultimate goal of graduating.
The program takes about one year to complete, and those who fail to abide by its rules are sentenced.
Since the program began in 2006, 119 people have graduated from the program and 55 are currently participating.
To date, the program has saved the county $41,332 per graduate and a total of $4.4 million in prison costs.
“(Treatment court) has given me a different picture of life,” said one graduate. “Now, I have tons of opportunities.”
Due to state law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations, participants of the program cannot be identified.
Another graduate spoke of agreeing to participate in treatment court because he thought it was an easy “get-out-of-jail-free” card. He didn’t know how to stay off drugs and thought he was “pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.”
It was only months later that he realized treatment court could change his life, and he now has been off drugs for more than a year, he said.
“We’re saving lives and we reunite families here,” he said.
Guest speaker state Sen. John Yudichak urged graduates to put the past behind them and “start a new day.
“At your weakest moments, (you were) still tall enough to lift yourself up (and become a graduate),” said Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township.
The program not only saves lives, but also saves taxpayer dollars, and Yudichak said he hopes funding for the program continues to come in so treatment court can continue to operate.
The program is in jeopardy of losing funding because of state budget issues; if that happens the program then would have to be funded solely by the county.
“(Treatment Court) impacts so many lives, we can’t let it expire,” Yudichak said.