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County works to establish drug court

Island County is working to find a new way to help deal with drug offenders. One tool coming soon to the court system is an adult drug court.

The new court's goal is to provide eligible defendants with a program that helps them break their drug habit and reduce the likelihood of re-offending.

"You help them fix the big problem and not the symptom," said Craig Platt, managing partner of Platt and Arndt, a local law firm that provides public defender services to the county.

Platt is part of a committee comprised of lawyers, court, law enforcement and health officials that formed to design the county's drug court. A juvenile drug court already exists.

When a person agrees to enter the drug court, he or she works with a team of people to develop a treatment plan to break his or her habit, then undergoes regular drug screenings and meets regularly with a Superior Court judge.

Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock said the drug court is a rigid program and a person who successfully completes it would have their charges dismissed. However, he added that if a defendant fails, he or she forfeits the right to trial. A judge would make a ruling on a drug charge based on police reports.

Island Human Services Director Jackie Henderson said the team of people works to help a person resolve issues that contributes to their drug addiction.

Platt said the open communication with a judge is a departure from normal court proceedings where, as a defense attorney, he normally tells his clients to remain silent.

He said people opting to go through the drug court usually face a lot more work than they would by accepting a guilty plea.

To finance the drug court, the county is in line to receive $65,000 from the state.

When the money is in hand, the committee will get together to meet and discuss the structure of the new court.

"Our only concern is finding the time to do this," Hancock said, noting that it would take about a half day each week to hold the drug court.

Officials involved with the project say the state money will help pay for a case manager and for treatment of the court's participants.

Hancock said the attorney-court committee also has to decide on the eligibility requirements for defendants while at the same time balancing public safety. Eligible defendants don't necessarily have to be facing drug crimes to participate in the program.

Greg Banks, Island County's prosecuting attorney, said drug courts have a better record than programs such as boot camps in preventing people from re-offending.

He said Island County's adult drug court would be able to handle 10 to 15 people during the first year.

Although the funding is supposed to be secure, Banks said he doesn't know how long the county will receive the state funding, considering the state's budget crisis.

Last year, the Legislature passed a law relaxing the sentences of people convicted of certain drug crimes. The money saved from the relaxed sentences is to go toward alternative programs such as the adult drug court. The county applied to receive a funds earlier this year.

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