Drug courts are specialty courts designed to divert individuals from the prison system and into treatment for their addiction. Studies have found they reduce recidivism rates and connect individuals with substance abuse issues to treatment.
Drug courts involve a collaborative effort between participants, the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, and therapists who all work to keep participants accountable for their behavior and in drug treatment programs grounded in science. Utah's first drug court started in 1996 and have since have expanded across the state
The Carbon County Drug Court has about 50 participants who meet once every two weeks with the drug court team to review their progress through the program. Typically, it takes at least a year for participants to complete the steps required to graduate from drug court.
Participants are required to work or perform community service, submit tests for urine analysis, attend therapy, and find positive supports in the community throughout the program. Individuals may receive sanctions, jail time, or eventually terminated from the program if they fail to meet this criteria. The Carbon County drug court uses national best practices and is reserved for high risk individuals with severe drug problems.
“I think it's much more successful than having people cycle through prison and then come back into the community,” said District Court Judge Doug Thomas. “We try to focus on treatment and change and getting people out of addictions. If we are focusing on trying to punish people for their addictions it's not going to benefit the community when they get back out. We are going to put them in prison where they are going to have associations with individuals who are truly criminal rather than simply addicted, and they are going to come back worse people, often, than when we went sent them to prison."
Judge Thomas argues it's better for everyone if participants can get rid of the addictions that are plaguing them in their lives and become productive people in the community, re-engage in family and friend relationships, and reconnect with children that they may not have had contact with, he said. "For the participant it is so much better, but it is also so much better for society.”
Music appearing in this story includes: Gregory Alan Isakov's cover of "The Trapeze Swinger." "A Nice Life" by Ketsa. "Smolder " by Monokle Galun. "Eidolons" by Deathbird Stories.
This series is brought to you in part by the Association for Utah Community Health, providing training and technical assistance to health centers and affiliates across Utah. More information available here.