The 8th Judicial Circuit Court’s drug court is going strong in Ionia and Montcalm counties.
Judge Suzanne Hoseth Kreeger obtained a $20,000 one-year planning grant from the Michigan Supreme Court in the fall of 2010. The grant allowed Kreeger to hire Kristi Jeffrey to coordinate drug court. When the grant ex-pired, Jeffrey continued to donate her time.
Kreeger’s drug court recently recieved a $50,000 grant from the Office of Highway Safety Planning, making it possible to re-hire Jeffrey. Kreeger will also be hiring a part-time case manager soon to assist probation agents in both counties with case management.
“We are very thrilled and thankful for the grant funds,” Kreeger said.
Candidates for drug court are assessed for drug dependence in order to qualify. Recommendations are made after a criminal conviction and during the pre-sentence investigation. The county prosecutor is required by law to approve each participant. The court also must consult with treatment providers and a defense attorney representative. Drug court board members then decide who qualifies.
Thanks to the $50,000 grant, Kreeger also was able to implement a random drug testing program in March with the help of the village of Sheridan, where testing occurs.
Drug court participants are assigned a color that determines the frequency that they must report for testing. Each day, participants call a phone hotline to learn whether their color has been called. If their color has been called, they must report for drug testing within a certain time frame. The same drug testing company used by the court in Ionia County sends agents to Sheridan to do the tests. The majority of test costs are funded by the grant, but participants have a $3 co-pay per test.
“If an individual does not stay clean from all drugs and alcohol, the recovery process cannot begin,” noted Bev Shepard, a Montcalm County drug treatment provider. “If the participant knows when the drug test is going to occur, they can estimate the time they have to continue using a drug and the time it will take to ‘clean out.’ By providing random drug testing, our participants are much less likely to relapse and have to start the recovery process over.”
Kreeger said she hopes the random drug testing program and new case manager will lead to less relapses for participants.
“Relapse is discouraging for the participant as well as the drug court teams,” she said. “And, unfortunately, in those instances where the participant despite the court-imposed sanctions and incentives does not get back on track, termination from the program occurs. But the progress we are seeing for so many of our participants is exciting.”
Drug court has had two graduates successfully complete the program — one from Ionia County and one from Montcalm County. The drug court program currently has nine participants from Ionia County and eight from Montcalm County.
One of those participants, a man from Ionia, recently wrote a letter to Kreeger and her drug court team, explaining why he should be able to advance to level four of the program.
“When I first came into drug court, I came in with the mindset of all I need to do is get through this and I will not have a felony on my record,” the man’s letter stated. “I also thought it would look good to go through the motions so my parents would get off my back. Little did I know that this was a program to change my life, my mindset, my friends and my normal, everyday habits.
“My biggest eye-opener when I thought I could hang with the same friends, do what I used to do, but just stay clean. But I was wrong. Thankfully I had the drug court looking over me and they saw a problem and addressed it. No matter how hard life gets for me in the future, I feel very firm in saying that I will not revert back to drugs, reasons being that I when I was using I was so disconnected from my family, they didn’t know who I turned into. I also was so disconnected with myself I didn’t know who I had turned into. When I was using drugs, I was in a very lonely state of mind. I felt like life was so dark and gloomy. I had nothing to show for myself and at the rate I was going I never would. People didn’t want to me around me because they thought I was going to lie, cheat or steal to get a fix.
“After being clean, I felt like my life has come back around. I have my family that backs me up in whatever I do. I have real friends again. I have a wonderful job where I enjoy working and the list goes on,” the letter stated.
Each county’s drug court team includes volunteers from substance abuse treatment agencies, community mental health agencies, sheriff’s department, children’s protective services, Michigan Works, prosecuting and defense attorney representatives and probation officers as well as members from the faith community. The teams meet every other week. A steering committee, comprised of representatives from each drug court team, meets every month to review program structure and best practices.
Kreeger said drug court is a rewarding experience for everyone involved.
“Seeing the participants reclaim their lives, mend family relationships, find housing and employment and embark upon a healthy course of living and problem solving, is so gratifying and encouraging,” she said. “It brings into clear focus all that is possible when we unite as a community, lend a hand and make a positive difference.”