Drug court paying off for St. Clair Co.
by Elsie Hodnett
Sep 10, 2009 | 3280 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Stacy Williams, a nurse for the Community Corrections lab, uses one of the drug testing machines.
Stacy Williams, a nurse for the Community Corrections lab, uses one of the drug testing machines.
The St. Clair County Juvenile Drug Court Program continues to show promise.

“We currently have 21 participants, five of whom we hope to graduate in February 2010,” said St. Clair County District Court Judge Phil Seay, who oversees both the adult drug court and the juvenile drug court.

Seay said the Juvenile Drug Court, initiated in January, recently received a $50,000 grant.

“A portion of the funds will assist District Judge Robert Minor in starting a Dependency Drug Court, which he is preparing to launch soon,” Seay said.

Prior to the grant award, Seay addressed more than 100 juvenile judges, juvenile probation officers, district attorneys, defense attorneys, Department of Human Resources workers, and other court personnel on sanctions and incentives used in Juvenile Drug Courts.

Seay said the Juvenile Drug Court uses existing state employees to supervise and monitor drug court participants, including the St. Clair County Juvenile Probation Officers, who supervise and coordinate weekly drug court meetings, drug testing, community service, curfew and school attendance/compliance.

“The work of these employees costs the taxpayer no additional funds with a great benefit to the juveniles in the program, as well as our schools and community,” he said.

Seay said St. Clair County Sheriff Terry Surles has also greatly aided the program by allowing an off-duty deputy to initiate curfew checks both by phone and in person.

Seay said the Juvenile Drug Court Program begins in Juvenile Court, when a teenager, age 14-17, is referred there for a non-violent drug- or alcohol-related charge. A Drug Court contract is signed by the juvenile, his custodian, the district attorney, and the child’s lawyer, and the juvenile begins Phase 1 of Drug Court.

Seay said Phase I takes three months. The juvenile must attend weekly juvenile court, held on Tuesdays at the St. Clair County Courthouse in Pell City. Parent or guardian attendance is mandatory for the first four meetings, and a strict dress code is enforced. The juvenile must attend Bridge drug counseling, which is free of charge. A representative from Bridge drug counseling appears at the court hearings and gives treatment updates.

In Phase I, the juveniles have a curfew of 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Random curfew checks, both in person (knock on doors) and by phone are conducted. Random color-coded drug testing is also used. Each juvenile is assigned a color, such as blue, and must call the testing facility every day. If the message lists that juvenile’s color, the juvenile must come in for testing that day. If the juvenile fails to appear for testing, it is considered a positive drug test.

The juveniles must also complete 25 hours of community service in that three-month period.

“We offer a wide range of community service options throughout the county,” Seay said. “And at the end of Phase I, the juvenile must give a speech to the class on how they have progressed in the program.”

Seay said in Phase II, which also lasts three months, the Bridge counseling continues and is phased out. The curfew is extended until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The juvenile continues with the random color code drug testing, and meets twice a month for juvenile drug court. The juvenile must also complete another 25 hours of community service.

Phase III lasts six months. The juvenile continues with the random color code drug tests, and meets once per month for juvenile drug court. Juveniles in Phase III have no curfew.

Upon completion of the juvenile drug court, a graduation party is held.

Seay said when the juvenile completes the 12-month sessions, his/her case is dismissed for first-time offenders, and probation will follow for those who, but for the program, would be headed for DYS (long-term juvenile lock-up).

“If we can save a child from youth prison or a juvenile record, I believe the child, his/her family, and our county will benefit, as well as potentially preventing adult offenders,” Seay said. “No child is ‘fixed’ when he/she is committed to DYS. Of course, DYS is oftentimes the only answer for violent, sex, repeated offenders, or those who refuse to comply with the Juvenile Drug Court requirements.”

Seay said the only costs a participant incurs during the program is a $50 per month fee to Community Corrections to help offset drug testing costs (usually six to eight tests per month). If a juvenile fails to comply with any requirement of the program, he/she may be sanctioned by the court. Sanctions include increased community service hours, curfew adjustment, phase recycle, detention in the St. Clair Juvenile Detention Facility (up to 72 hours), inpatient treatment, or return to court for imposition of sentence.

Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens said the Talladega County District Attorney’s Office is not currently looking at implementing a drug court program.

“Every defendant has the opportunity to participate in a rehab program on their own,” he said.

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