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Lewis County celebrating 10 years of Drug Court

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Lewis County Superior Court is celebrating 10 years of their Drug Court program, with court officials visiting local cities to share their successes.

Though based on models used nationally, Lewis County Drug Court, begun in July of 2004, has found itself performing far above and beyond the standards established elsewhere in the nation, according to supervisor Judge Nelson Hunt.

"Lewis County Drug Court is truly a success story," he said, noting the rate of graduates being arrested again for felonies, or the recidivism rate, is at 10.5 percent locally, compared to a national average of between 30 and 40 percent for graduates from similar programs, and a rate of around 60 percent for those with no treatment at all.

Much of the success of the Drug Court program, which gives addicts with significant criminal histories an opportunity to seek reformation and rehabilitation in return for not facing pending felony charges, comes from the personnel and volunteers involved, with Hunt stating the entire Drug Court team has made the program what it is today.

"We have a spectacular treatment provider...a spectacular drug court manager," he said, mentioning some of the positions within the program.

Hunt said Drug Court is also experiencing success due to a 0.1 percent sales tax passed by County Commissioners in 2011, which generates around $400,000 annually to be dedicated to the program, allowing for better planning and financial stability.

"We don't need to be worried about what the next budget cycle is going to do," he said, stating the sales tax is part of the reason he is visiting currently with area cities, to inform residents of how these taxes are being spent.

According to Hunt, when examining the costs of not having to incarcerate returning felons, not having to investigate additional drug-related crimes, and the estimate property not being stolen or destroyed in such incidents, the county is saving approximately $3.36 for every dollar invested in the program, which Hunt admitted were subjective figures, but could mean a county-wide savings of around $1.3 million every year.

"It's difficult to calculate the burglary that wasn't committed," he said of the estimates.

But despite such potential benefits, some officials remain skeptical of having increased taxes for the program, including Toledo City Council Member Nate Cook, who had opposed a resolution passed by the rest of the council in 2011 in support of the increase.

Cook said, for a program that has seen fewer than half of its participants graduate, he does not see the justification in an additional tax that charges around $1 million to residents annually (the portion not given to Drug Court goes to mental health services as well as a reserve account for both programs to draw from when needed).

Hunt said, while 128 out of 258 total participants have graduated during the last 10 years, it would not be beneficial to offer a less-challenging program simply to increase graduation rates.

"If it were easy, we wouldn't need the program," he said. "Sometimes we have people drop out because they simply can't complete the program. It's always painful when that happens because we don't take anybody in that we don't think can do it."

Nate also asked Hunt to confirm rumors that, since the new tax went into effect in 2012, the recidivism rate for Drug Court has tripled, which Hunt said was simply not true. But he added some figures may seem far larger or smaller than others as there are different ways to calculate recidivism, stating Lewis County Drug Court tracks felony convictions of those who graduate from the program.

As Drug Court accepts participants into its 11th year, Hunt is expected to make his way to area city meetings to offer updates and answer questions, and those who are curious about his upcoming appearances may contact their respective City Halls for more information.

Drug Court itself is held every Monday in Lewis County Superior Court, and those seeking more information about the program may call Hunt at (360) 740-1170.

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