Bismarck-Mandan Drug/DUI Court celebrates 12 yearsBISMARCK (AP) — After the speeches ended at the Bismarck-Mandan Drug/DUI Court’s 12th birthday party, Judge Bruce Romanick got down to business, checking in with the program’s 25 current participants.
By: Jenny Michael, The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK (AP) — After the speeches ended at the Bismarck-Mandan Drug/DUI Court’s 12th birthday party, Judge Bruce Romanick got down to business, checking in with the program’s 25 current participants.
A young man was the first to take the seat between probation officer Mark Kemmet and treatment coordinator Elise Hocking and face the judge. Romanick had bad news for him.
“You’re kind of struggling,” Romanick told him, bringing up missed appointments and trouble in his job.
The judge told the young man simply what his punishment would be — spending the weekend in the Burleigh County Detention Center. The participant was ordered to meet with Kemmet on Monday and talk about whether he wanted to continue in the intensive program or return to the court system, where he could face prison time.
Drug court often is a last-ditch effort by non-violent defendants with addiction issues to avoid being sentenced to prison. Judge Gail Hagerty, the presiding judge in the district and one of the judges who oversees the program, said the drug court team has been selecting tougher cases in the past year. She said the people put in the program now have failed on probation in the past and have gone through treatment without success.
In 2012, 10 of the 15 people, or 33.3 percent, exiting the program were considered “negative terminations,” meaning their probation was revoked and they were returned to the court system. In previous years, the negative termination rate ranged from 22.7 percent to 52.6 percent.
Hagerty said many people will successfully exit their first stints in treatment or on probation; the drug court team has decided to put resources into the people who may need more of a push.
Participants in drug court have to undergo regular tests to determine if they’ve used drugs or alcohol. They are under intensive supervision from a probation officer, have to participate in treatment, must go to work or school or perform community service 40 hours per week, and appear weekly before a judge.
The Bismarck-Mandan drug court was the first in North Dakota and began on Jan. 5, 2001. Since then, 251 people have been involved in the program, and 132 of them have successfully completed it. A team of judges, treatment providers, probation officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors and other court personnel run the program.
The drug court’s 12th birthday party was held Friday morning before the regular drug court check-ins with Romanick. The drug court team recognized the Bruce M. Van Sickle Inn of Court for the legal organization’s stewardship to drug court and presented Burleigh County Sheriff’s Deputy Shar Schuh with a distinguished service award for befriending and assisting drug court participants.
Hagerty also recognized Judge Bruce Haskell, a founder of the local drug court who has since stepped back from the program.
“His contributions to the program have made it the success it has been,” Hagerty said.
Romanick took Haskell’s place, and Judicial Referee John Grensteiner also joined the drug court team. Both Romanick and Grensteiner have been involved with the juvenile drug court, which began nearly two years after its adult predecessor.
A current drug court participant, a woman nearing completion in the program, also spoke during the birthday ceremony. She credited drug court for getting her life on track and providing a well-rounded approach at rehabilitation.
Much of the crowd in the Burleigh County Courthouse’s largest courtroom filed out after the speeches and recognitions ended. Romanick began calling the participants, who each took their turns in the seat between Hocking and Kemmet.
The line of questions and comments from the judge showed the level of scrutiny the participants have opened themselves up to by participating. The drug court team knows about the participants’ struggles, triumphs, stressors and weaknesses. They know how the participants are doing in their jobs or in school and know details about their family life.
None of the 25 participants had tested positive for drug and alcohol use prior to the session, but Hagerty said that’s not uncommon. They are tested multiple times per week and generally stay clean and sober while in the program. But drug court isn’t just concerned with keeping people off substances — the program tries to get them on track in all aspects of life.
Romanick ordered several people to complete 10 hours of community service before the drug court’s next Friday morning session. He commended some for their good work, good attitudes or accomplishments, both big and small. One young woman had spent New Year’s Eve and Day sober for the first time in a long time. One middle-aged man got a job he had been trying to get for more than three years and credited his success to his sobriety and newfound structure.
Hagerty said the approaches used in drug court aren’t random; they are all based on research, down to the number of minutes judges spend interacting with each participant to the length of treatment and timing of testing. Drug court takes on the tough cases, knowing that not all of them will be successful, she said. The ones who are successful have lower recidivism rates than people on standard probation.
“It’s not just a feel good thing,” she said.