Drug court recognized by state

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By Susan Sharp

When members of the Eighth Judicial Drug Court traveled to Nashville earlier this month, it was to accept their state certification. However, it was more than just a training trip and accepting a plaque. For the 14-member team it was confirmation that they are making a difference in the lives of people battling substance abuse.

Becoming certified as a state recognized drug court means two things, according to Jonathan Finley, director for drug court.

Primarily gaining the certification means the court and its staff is following the guidelines established by the National Drug Court Institute, he said. However, it also means something more tangible. It means the team has found a way to make those guidelines work successfully for its participants.

When the numbers were submitted during the certification process, the ones for the Eighth Judicial Drug Court included a low recidivism rate and a number of babies born drug free to their one time addicted mothers.

But for the staff those numbers meant more. Each number had a name, a face and a story attached to it. It also meant that what they are doing on a daily basis has had an impact on the participants.

“This stuff works,” said Judge Shayne Sexton, who has presided over the court since its inception three years ago. “There is a science behind this process and if the participants will follow it, it works.”

Finley, who worked over year compiling the data and completing paperwork, said the Eighth District Drug Court was actually ahead of schedule when it came to being recognized by the state. Drug courts must be invited by state officials to take part in the process. Instead of waiting to be asked, Finley and the others requested to be included in the 2009 group, he said. “We wanted to (take part),” he said.

“We are still tender in years,” Sexton said adding that courts that go through the program often have more years under their belt. “We were just now steady enough to take on a project like that.”

And while drug courts have long been established in other parts of the country, Tennessee is new to the process. “The certification process only began last year in Tennessee,” Sexton said. In that time, only 20 courts across the state have been recognized. That makes the honor given to this court even more remarkable.

“This shows we are promoting the best practices,” the judge said of the recognition.

With the process complete, funding avenues may also become easier for the court to access, according to Finley. For a program that relies solely on grants and court fines for financial support, this is a welcome addiction.

While the court serves the five counties in the Eighth Judicial District, it asks nothing in return.

At this time, there are 28 participants in drug court. This number has risen steadily since the court began. Finley projects that by the end of the year, the cap of 40 could easily be exceeded.

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