For five recovering addicts battling the demons of drug addiction, Rockdale County is offering a road to recovery instead of incarceration in a new specialized drug court.
In keeping with a state-wide trend of establishing specialty courts, Rockdale’s Adult Drug Court is aiming to keep offenders with drug abuse and addiction problems out of prison by providing structure and support to lead to rehabilitation. Since January, the drug court has seen a 100 percent success rate with its participants.
Funded by a grant awarded by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the program is designed to foster community safety and reduce drug-related offenses by providing supervised, participant- centered treatment and access to community support programs.
“The state has made this possible,” Drug Court program coordinator Connie Morris said. “This is a good opportunity for these people, not only legally, but mainly to get clean and live a sober life.”
The concept of the drug court is to enhance offender accountability and promote long-term sobriety. The participants, — three women and two men — are closely supervised. In addition to passing two to three random drug tests each week, the participants must follow stringent guidelines that include paying a $250 program participation fee each week, appearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Mumford each Thursday and completing eight hours of community service per week.
“One of the triggers (for drug use) is idle time,” Morris said. “They need to be held accountable. They have been used to using drugs for so many years they have built a life around that. They need structure to move forward — community service, treatment, group sessions and employment are all part of that.”
One drug court participant testified that she had never had positive interactions with law enforcement and authority figures, but that in drug court, she felt there was a positive support in the program. “I don’t dread coming here,” she said.
Rockdale Superior Court Judges David Irwin and Judge Mumford established the drug court with the $101,451 grant and are currently applying for more grants to sustain the program. Judge Mumford, who will preside over the drug court program, feels the team approach is key to the program's success. The program is a collaborative effort involving Viewpoint Health, Rockdale's DUI court, the District Attorney's Office, the Department of Corrections Rockdale Adult Probation, the Public Defender's Office, the Rockdale County Sheriff's Department and the Conyers Police Department.
Judge Mumford said potential drug court candidates often have an addiction problem so severe they are violating the law, though not all arrests are drug-related.
" What surprised me about drug court since I started looking into this is most of the people we are getting are people who are either going to be in this program and finish this program, or they are going to prison," Judge Mumford said from his chambers this week. "They are getting treatment they could not otherwise have access to. It cost $43,000 to keep someone in prison for a year. If we can save 20 people from going to prison, that is almost $1 million dollars a year."
While several agencies play a part in the drug court program, Judge Mumford said one of the biggest challenges is finding employment for the participants, which is a requirement of the 12 to 16-month commitment. Establishing structure for recovering addicts is crucial to success, and being able to provide for their families will instill a sense of purpose for the participants, who Judge Mumford said are all skilled workers.
"We are looking for people in Rockdale County who are willing to put these people to work," he said. "We can guarantee they are 100 percent drug free. These are individuals who want to work."
The drug court is also looking for non-profit organizations willing to provide community service hours for participants. In addition, the drug court is looking to grow to 20 participants and is asking the community to identify potential participants who could benefit from the program.
"This is definitely the direction criminal justice is headed in," Judge Mumford said. "A number of these courts have been very successful and we think it will be here too."
For more information on the Adult Drug Court Program and how to become involved by offering employment or community service opportunities, contact Drug Court Program Coordinator Connie Morris at (770)278-7736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.