On April 27, Lawrence County will launch a Drug and DWI Court, similar to ones already operating in Stone and Barry counties.
Judge Scott Sifferman and seven other members of the newly created Lawrence County Drug and DWI Court team have been working hard for the past several months to get the new court established.
Last month, the team attended national training in Nashville, Tenn., developed by the National Center for Drug and DWI Courts. Team members learned evidenced-based practices for operating a drug and DWI court.
"As part of the training, we learned (about) the transformation that is possible when the criminal justice system takes a team-centered approach to drunk driving and drug-involved offenders," said Judge Sifferman. "It was invigorating to see what is possible when we all work together, and I am eager for our Drug and DWI Court to serve the community."
Other members of the Lawrence County Drug and DWI Court include: Prosecuting Attorney Don Trotter; defense attorney Darwin Groomer; Probation and Parole Officer Lorrie Tennison Lindeman; Karah Young, licensed clinical social worker; Shawn Billings, Drug Court and DWI Court manager; Deputy Mike Lyle, lead tracker; and Rhonda Bennett, Judicial Information System manager. Deputy Chris Berry also attended the training as reserve tracker.
When Lawrence County's Drug and DWI Court begins accepting participants at the end of the month, it will become one of over 500 similar courts across the country. These courts target repeat drug offenders and drunk drivers, offering them long-term treatment for their drug and alcohol addiction, which fuels their criminal behavior.
Participants also benefit from accountability that is the result of frequent drug and alcohol testing, twice monthly appearances in court and intense supervision that includes unscheduled visits to the participant's home. Participants receive incentives for doing well and sanctions for not living up to the obligations of the program.
"This combination of close supervision and intense treatment has been proven to get repeat offenders to stop drinking and driving and stop using drugs," said Judge Sifferman.
This new approach to dealing with serious drug offenders and repeat drunk drivers is referred to as "smart justice" by Judge Sifferman. The traditional form of justice involves arresting drug offenders and drunk drivers, placing them on probation or sending them to prison.
Statistics show that 68 percent of drug offenders are arrested for a new crime and 95 percent relapse to substance abuse within three years of being released from prison.
When it comes to drunk driving, the statistics are equally as sobering. There are more than two million impaired drivers nationwide with three or more DWI convictions and a staggering 400,000 with five or more convictions.
"I have seen too many of these offenders emerge from the criminal justice system only to re-offend and appear right back in court on a DWI or drug charge," said Judge Sifferman. "Clearly traditional sentencing has had no effect on the behavior of repeat DWI and serious drug offenders."
Drug and DWI courts are working, because they address the underlying cause of drug and DWI offenders' behavior, which is drug or alcohol addiction.
Once recent study cited by Judge Sifferman found that repeat offenders who have participated in DWI Court are 19 times less likely to drink and drive than DWI offenders who are dealt with in traditional court and three times less likely to commit another offense. Likewise, another study found that drug court efforts reduced crime by as much as 35 percent.
These courts also save money. The latest research conducted by the NADCP on the cost-effectiveness of drug courts shows they produce an average of $2.21 in direct benefits to the criminal justice system for every $1 invested, which translates to a 221 percent return on investment. Other studies conclude that the net economic benefits to local communities range from approximately $3,000 to $13,000 per drug court participant.
"We've been doing the same thing for years with repeat DWI and drug offenders. It has not been working," said Judge Sifferman. "It's time for a change and that change is Lawrence County Drug and DWI Court. This will institute 'smart justice' for repeat DWI and serious drug-involved offenders and make our community safer."