Clearfield County District Attorney hopeful Ryan Sayers today called for the creation of a drug court, a move he says will allow low-level offenders a chance at rehabilitation, while freeing up resources to go after major drug dealers.
“The current DA has been in there 16 years and this type of specialized court program has yet to be something that was instituted or even proposed,” Sayers said.
Currently, 45 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties use drug courts. These courts divert low-level offenders from criminal prosecution to a court overseen by a judge, the district attorney, county probation office, and counseling services.
Defendants are provided with treatment and counseling and are required to have jobs, do community service, take mandatory drug tests, and avoid any other legal troubles. The Department of Justice found that drug courts significantly reduce recidivism of those that complete the program, which benefits the community as a whole.
“There are grants available for this kind program. I will immediately apply for the grants to help pay for the program and work with the Court to institute this in our county,” Sayers said.
Drug offenders sentenced to less than a full year in jail serve time in the Clearfield County Jail, which is currently overcrowded and requires officials here to send prisoners to neighboring Jefferson and Centre Counties.
Studies have shown that instituting this type of program saves taxpayers two to three for every dollar invested.
Sayers warned that drug court is not a free pass though. Participants must remain clean and out of trouble or they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“We’re not giving them a break,” he said. “They have to complete the program where they’re under strict supervision. If they don’t complete the program, they are fully charged and rearrested.”
A summary of the drug court program listed on the state’s Unified Judicial System website outlines the program this way:
- Drug courts integrate alcohol and other drug treatment services with justice system case processing.
- Using a non-adversarial approach, prosecution and defense counsel promote public safety while protecting participants’ due process rights.
- Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the drug court program.
- Drug courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol and other drug and related treatment and rehabilitation services.
- Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
- A coordinated strategy governs drug court responses to participants’ compliance.
- Ongoing judicial interaction with each drug court participant is essential.
- Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
- Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective drug court planning, implementation and operations.
- Forging partnerships among drug courts, public agencies and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances drug court effectiveness.
More information can be found on drug court programs around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at http://www.pacourts.us/judicial-administration/court-programs/drug-courts