A man has faced Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter multiple times for drug-related charges in recent years.

Poynter had the option of putting the man through incarceration, community corrections, home detention or probation.

One day, as the man was driving down the road, he was caught with methamphetamine in his pocket. He just can’t quit using drugs, and he can’t keep a job. He’s not only hurting himself but also his wife and children.

What’s the best option for this man?

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Poynter could put him in jail, but that doesn’t help his family because they would still have the same situation.

The man could be placed on home detention, and there’s a chance he gets a job and starts working. He could be put on probation, and there’s a chance he gets a job and is out in the community, but the supervision isn’t as intense as home detention.

If those options won’t work, a new one might. Jackson County recently received temporary certification to start a drug court, joining about 50 other programs in Indiana.

In drug court, a person is expected to actively participate in an extensive drug treatment plan, which includes group therapy, individual therapy and self-help meetings. The person also will undergo a minimum of two drug tests per week and face Poynter once a week. The five-phase program will take a minimum of 18 months.

Upon successful completion of the program, the participant may have his or her criminal charge dismissed if the plea agreement calls for a dismissal. Failure to complete the program will result in the person being sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement that he or she signed upon entry into the program.

“They are going to come in here every single week. They are going to go to classes and programming every single day except maybe Sundays,” said Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections director J.L. Brewer, whose department is overseeing the drug court in Jackson County.

“The judge and prosecutors are looking at the same thing: ‘What can I do to get this guy to quit using drugs or quit affecting the community poorly by his choices of using drugs?'” Brewer said.

Once the Indiana Judicial Center agrees to allow a county to start a drug court, temporary certification is awarded, giving the county six months to get the program in place. Judicial center officials will then assess the county’s program and allow it to move forward.

Establishing a drug court in Jackson Circuit Court was one of Poynter’s goals during his election campaign in 2012.

When he shared that goal with the 2012-13 Leadership Jackson County class on its day learning about local government, it struck a chord in one of the project teams.

Josh Quillen, Bernie Bryant, Rita Baker, Mamie McDonald and Kris Small researched how a drug court operates, learned about the benefits and effect it could have in the county and shared the success other counties have seen. All of that information was then given to Poynter.

Brewer went on some of those site visits and volunteered his department to head up the program. He had some funding available and also pursued funds from the Indiana Department of Correction and Indiana Judicial Center.

In some counties, the probation or community corrections department runs a drug court, while some are led by freestanding entities that receive funding from the county.

But when Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections formed in 2012, it no longer received county funding and began accepting funds and grants from the Indiana Department of Correction and Indiana Judicial Center and user fees. Brewer also has pursued other grant opportunities.

He allotted $100,000 for the first year of the drug court program, which will allow for as many 15 participants. As the program grows, the budget will grow, he said.

A year ago, Poynter signed a letter of intent to start a drug court in Jackson County and gave Brewer the green light to organize it. A couple of months later, Brewer hired Missy Cox to be the drug court coordinator.

Brewer often interacted with Cox when she worked for the alcohol and drug program at Jackson Superior Court I in Seymour and taught programming for community corrections. Plus, he was in need of another case manager for the home detention program at the time, and he said Cox was the perfect person to fill both jobs.

Cox’s first tasks included assembling a participant handbook and a policies and procedures manual, which outline how the program will work, eligibility criteria and the responsibilities of the participants.

A 10-member drug court team also was formed, and it started meeting regularly in January to fine-tune the manual, which was submitted to the state with paperwork for the application process.

Cox also visited other counties to see how their drug courts work.

Drug court is a component of the state’s problem-solving courts for juveniles and adults, which also include mental health, veterans and domestic violence courts. A judge can choose to have his or her own problem-solving court and add it to the regular docket.

Cox said she is in the process of working with prosecutors to get names of potential participants. They will undergo a screening process, including legal eligibility, a risk assessment, clinical eligibility and drug court team eligibility.

The screening process will help determine appropriateness for the program based on the severity of the offender’s drug and/or alcohol dependency, prior criminal history and other factors.

To be eligible, an offender must have been arrested for committing a nonviolent felony offense or a probation violation while on probation for a nonviolent felony offense. The person has to be 18 or older, live in Jackson County, be substance dependent, admit to having a problem and demonstrate a willingness to change.

If considered an appropriate candidate, the person will be contacted by the public defender or an attorney of their choosing to explain qualifications for entry into the program and program requirements. The person also must have completed an orientation with a case manager, entered a plea of guilty and agreed to abide by drug court program rules, a treatment plan and a case plan as part of the plea agreement.

The first phase of the program will last about 60 days, the second one lasts about 24 weeks and the other three each last about 12 weeks. If a person reaches a certain phase and has a setback, the drug court team may vote to send them back to a previous phase.

“In this, you’ve got to want to change or have an idea that you’re wanting to change,” Cox said. “It is intense. You have to attend appointments and treatment. There really can’t be excuses.

“I know there are going to be some problems and stuff, but they won’t be able to just always have an excuse for why they can’t do treatment or can’t attend court,” she said. “They have to agree at the beginning that they are going to make the arrangements to come to their case management appointments, to attend their treatment programs as required.”

With many jails facing overcrowding issues, Cox sees drug court as a good option.

“When you go to jail, you’re in a controlled environment, and it’s kind of hard to learn how to make changes. You see people in jail that want to quit using while they are in jail, but when they get out, it’s really hard for them to do that,” Cox said.

“(Drug court) is something kind of helping them with that process, where we’re here to help make them accountable because they have to come to court every single week, they have to meet their case manager, they have to do a treatment program,” she said. “They are really busy while they are still trying to learn how to live life out in their regular environment. They are meeting us every single week, so when they are having those little hiccups or struggles or whatever, we’re right there to help them get over that.”

Poynter said it’s good to see one of his campaign goals fulfilled.

One of his other goals, getting a public defender’s office up and running, was accomplished at the beginning of the year. His other goal is to have a work-release facility built to house inmates serving sentences who can be released during certain hours to attend work and then return to a jail-like setting.

“I am very pleased to see progress and change,” Poynter said. “Our community, like many communities in our state and country, is having to deal with a growing drug epidemic. This drug epidemic is only getting worse, especially with the explosion in opiates, such as heroin. We have the potential with drug court to help save some people‚Äôs lives and to give those individuals a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones.”

After 16 years of being involved as a prosecutor and now judge, Poynter said he has seen too many young people destroy their lives because of drugs, and it’s important to try to help save some of them.

“The benefits to our community in helping to get some of these young people off drugs will be seen with fewer crimes being committed, such as thefts and burglaries, which are almost always tied to drug addiction,” he said. “Breaking the cycle of drug addiction will ease the burden on our local jail by stopping the ‘revolving door’ of seeing the same people arrested over and over again for drug-related crimes.”

Stopping the young people from being drug addicts and raising children around the drug culture also is important, Poynter said.

“Many times, the children mimic the behavior of their parents and thereby also become drug addicts themselves,” he said.

“Of course, the drug court will have failures. Not every drug addict will succeed,” he added. “However, if we save one life, as that is why I and others wanted to see a drug court finally be established here, seeing some young person overcome their drug addiction and move on with their life is the reward we all want for investing in their future.”

Small also is glad to see the drug court established. Along with being a part of the Leadership Jackson County project team, he is a manager of adult services with Centerstone in Seymour and is a member of the drug court team.

He said he and the project team were intrigued by learning about the county’s justice system and seeing Poynter’s passion for getting a drug court going.

“One benefit is (that) it’s long term. These folks are going to be in there for at least 18 months, and there’s going to be a lot of accountability. It’s a very structured program,” he said. “The other part, as I looked at the research, there is a pretty high success rate. It definitely increases the chances for these folks with drug-related felonies to get clean and sober and stay that way.”

Small said he likes the team approach of the program.

“You’ve got so many different perspectives chiming in,” he said. “Getting that multidisciplinary approach is really exciting. I think it’s going to be a great benefit to our community.”

At a glance

Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter is adding drug court to his docket.

Missy Cox, who works for Jackson-Jennings Community Corrections, is the coordinator of the program.

Cox and Poynter are members of a 10-person drug court team. The others are Carrie Tormoehlen, probation officer; Alan Marshall, public defender; AmyMarie Travis, prosecuting attorney; Bill Abbott, Seymour police chief; Dawn Goodman-Martin, Schneck Medical Center; and Kris Small, Jackie Gatesy and Brittany Drawbaugh, Centerstone.

For information, call 812-271-1400 or email mcox@jacksoncounty.in.gov.

At a glance

What are the benefits of a drug court?

1. To provide a fully integrated and comprehensive treatment program.

2. To provide graduated levels of sanctions for defendants who are not in compliance with the program.

3. To facilitate the acquisition or enhancement of academic, vocational and pro-social skills.

4. To reduce incarceration for defendants with serious substance abuse issues.

5. To reduce criminal justice costs over the long run by reducing drug addiction and street crime.

At a glance

Drug court eligibility

A defendant must be age 18 or older, a resident of Jackson County and substance dependent, admit he or she has a problem and demonstrate a willingness to change.

Drug court phases

Phase I lasts about 60 days. Phase II lasts about 24 weeks. Phases III, IV and V each last about 12 weeks.

Overall completion and graduation will take a participant a minimum of 18 months.

The mere passage of time alone does not guarantee completion of a phase.

Drug court treatment plan

Treatment for alcohol and/or drug dependency is one of the primary objectives of the program.

Each participant will be expected to actively participate in an extensive drug treatment plan, which will include group therapy, individual therapy and self-help meetings.

Active participation in the treatment plan is essential for successful completion of the program.

Each participant will be expected to participate in a minimum amount of treatment sessions as outlined above in the description of the program phases.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.