County’s first treatment court aims to break cycle of drug addiction and crime

By Perry Backus

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RAVALLI COUNTY, Montana (Republic of Ravalli) – It has been less than two months since Ravalli County opened its first treatment court that aims to break the cycle of drug addiction, crime and incarceration.

District Judge Howard Recht feels like he’s already seen his potential.

Each week, its participants appear before the judge for a face-to-face meeting on the progress they have made in changing their lives. No matter how small these steps are, those enrolled in the program are applauded by the treatment team who attends weekly hearings to assess progress.

“From my perspective as a judge who sees these people week after week, I saw something in their eyes that I don’t often see in others appearing before me,” Recht said. “I see hope in the eyes of those in the treatment court.”

Treatment courts have a long history in the United States dating back 30 years to their inception in Florida.

Recht proposed to create a treatment court in 2019 in Ravalli County. The idea received broad support from the judiciary, county commission, sheriff, county attorney, adult probation and parole, and local health and health care providers. mental.

A grant of $ 365,000 from the Montana Department of Justice will cover the first three years of the program.

While there were general guidelines in the terms of the grant, Recht tailored the program to the needs of the county, including adding support after a client graduated.

In Ravalli County, candidates for treatment court are people who have battled drug addiction and have committed crimes such as impaired driving offenses or criminal possession of dangerous drugs. People who have committed violent or sexual crimes are not eligible.

It offers people a second chance to take charge of their lives while living in their community and with their families, but the path to graduation is not easy. If the client is not able to meet strict conditions including shedding old habits and bad influences while finding secure employment and housing, he could be incarcerated by the State Corrections Department. .

“It’s a challenge for the participants,” Recht said. “They need to change the people, places and things that triggered them in the past. It is a requirement that they change who they associate with, where they go and what they have done in their past addictive life in order to connect with people and places that no longer serve as triggers. to their addiction.

“It’s very difficult,” he says. “But we’re getting reports from some of the participants, they can see it’s a good thing. They can see the benefit of making these changes.

Ravalli County Treatment Court coordinator Scott Hoffman said the fledgling program currently has six registrants. The first started on September 7th.

“Most of these people have been in and out of the system for a bit,” Hoffman said. “Without intervention, most would probably ride a bicycle. They would get out of jail, use, and then go back to jail. “

So far, Hoffman has said it looks like all six are on track to move into phase two of the program.

“It says a lot,” he says. “There are some in the program that people in the community told us they would never get. We’ll see.”

The first phase focuses on stabilizing people. They are all tested for drugs / alcohol twice a week. They meet with care providers. And once a week, they appear before the judge and report back to him on their progress.

“I like to call it hearing the icing on the cake,” Hoffman said. “It’s different from any other court hearing. They don’t have a lawyer speaking for them. The only people speaking are the judge and the participant. The judge engages with them on a personal level.

The treatment team attends weekly hearings.

“The whole program is based on incentives rather than sanctions,” Hoffman said. “These incentives can be as little as applause from the group for doing a good job during the week. Or it could be a $ 10 gas card to help them get to work.

The grant does not fund small incentives like gas cards or a pizza gift card. The treatment team is asking the community to help them raise approximately $ 2,000 which would be used to pay for small incentives.

Donations can be sent to: Treatment Court Coordinator, 21st Judicial District Court, Department One, 205 Bedford St., Suite A, Hamilton, MT 59840.

“These incentives may seem like a small, insignificant thing, but for these people, it’s huge,” Hoffman said. “Many have children and families decimated by drug addiction. We see families coming together and talking again. “

“Being able to take their kids out for ice cream or pizza means a lot to them,” he said.

Hoffman said the program has the potential to grow. This saves taxpayers the $ 100 a day it costs to keep someone in jail.

For the past five years, the Billings Municipal Treatment Court has tracked the recidivism rate of people in the criminal justice system who have completed court treatment and those who have not. They found that 86% of people who had not been treated by the treatment court ended up being charged with a new crime.

Only 15% of those who successfully completed court treatment ended up in jail for a new charge. Clients with both mental health and substance abuse disorders who went through treatment court had an even lower recidivism rate of 12%.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, in 2013, every dollar spent on drug court programs yielded $ 9.61 in benefits over a 10-year period.

“There is significant savings potential for taxpayers,” Recht said. “And not just immediately. There could be a reduction in recidivism, drug addiction, and the number of crimes committed would save money in the long run. “

“The real purpose of acquiring incentives is to be able to reward success and progress,” he said. “Small things like a card to get a cup of coffee or a little money for gasoline can be helpful in encouraging their success. Many of them have never been recognized for any progress or success in their life. “

Recht is encouraged by the progress of the program so far.

“So far everything is good, that’s all I can say,” he said.

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