WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County's adult drug treatment court this year became the fifth county court system in Pennsylvania to receive accreditation by the state Supreme Court.
At a ceremony attended by court officials and program participants Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery issued the court its accreditation certificate.
The treatment court, now in its seventh year of operation, aims to reduce crime and save prison expenses in Luzerne County by treating the drug problems that prompt addicts to commit crimes.
It started as a plan to deal more effectively with the revolving door of substance abuse and crime that kept bringing people back into our criminal justice system again and again, said Kelly J. Cesari, treatment coordinator for the program.
In order to attain its accreditation, the court needed to conform to 10 key components established by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, which include:
• Integration of alcohol and drug treatment services into the judicial system.
• Providing access to a continuum of alcohol, drug and related treatment services.
• Monitoring abstinence from drugs and alcohol through frequent testing.
• Continuing judicial interaction with participants.
• Forging partnerships with public agencies and community-based organizations. Our treatment program is premised upon evidence-based strategies and techniques which have proven to be the most effective strategies for preventing crime, reducing drug abuse and restoring families, said William Amesbury, presiding judge of the treatment court.
McCaffery, who oversees treatment courts statewide, said the guidelines reflect a changing view toward drug addiction in the criminal justice system.
We changed, McCaffery said. I changed, the courts have changed, law enforcement has changed … The system now has gotten to the point where we recognize addiction as a problem that needs to be treated. We can't continue to put people in jail. The number two budget line here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is our prisons.
Since it began with a single participant in January 2004, the court's program has graduated 107 participants. Fifty-five are currently taking part in the program, 12 of whom are expected to graduate in March.
Treatment court accepts offenders with substance abuse problems who plead guilty to nonviolent crimes, with the approval of prosecutors. The court does not accept offenders charged with DUI, drug trafficking or sexual offenses.
The program lasts for a minimum of one year, though most participants take 12 to 18 months to graduate. Participants must stay free of drugs and alcohol while undergoing intensive treatment, refrain from committing crimes, meet weekly with case managers and probation officers and submit to random drug testing. They also are expected to work or enroll in a full-time education program.
Participants who remain drug-free and are not rearrested may apply to have their criminal records expunged three years after graduating.
Cesari said obtaining accreditation also will make it easier for treatment court to obtain funding from county and other government sources.
Amesbury closed the program by appealing directly to County Manager Robert Lawton and County Council Chairman Tim McGinley to continue to fund the court program.
McGinley said council would consider the funding request seriously, while also noting that budgets are going down all the time.
Obviously the judicial branch of the government is very important to us, and we look very closely at all the funding issues, said McGinley. Hopefully we can do what's right for this court and all the other courts that we support.
Program start: Jan. 4, 2006
Active participants: 55, 12 expecting graduation in March
Recidivism rate: 11 percent
Recidivism rate for treatment programs nationally: 66.7 percent
Average cost per day per client: $12
Average cost per day for a Luzerne County Correctional Facility inmate: $94
Approximate savings in prison costs to date: $4.42 million
Savings per graduate: $41,332
SOURCE: Luzerne County Treatment Court. Information current as of Feb. 6