“We have come a very long way over the past few years to bring the dream of a Drug Court Program to Cherokee County,” O’Dell stated. “We started our Drug Court in Dekalb county, in 1999, with a $300,000 federal grant. At that time, it was the first rural drug court in America. It was the brainchild of Court Referral Director Doug Parker, Circuit Judge Randall Cole and the district attorney. We employed the assistance of District Court Judge Sheri Carver, who was a private attorney in Fort Payne in drafting our bylaws and protocol. With illegal drug use and abuse reaching epidemic levels, we knew that we had to seek new and innovative approaches to address the crisis.”
Drug Court is an 18-month program that provides addicts with intensive treatment and counseling, along with drug testing, supervision, adult education classes, job referrals and other services. Its mission is to address the underlying causes of drug addiction and to restore the lives of those who have been ravaged by the effects of their addiction. According to O’Dell, Drug Court seeks to bring hope and healing to the families of addicts by providing intense supervision and treatment to individuals willing to attack their addiction, finish their education and obtain gainful employment. Making productive citizens out of these addicts is the goal of the Drug Court professionals.
“For years, those of us in the prosecutorial realm have taken the approach that drug addicts and dope dealers should be aggressively prosecuted, convicted and locked away for as long as possible,” O’Dell remarked. “Literally thousands of drug users and dealers have been successfully prosecuted and removed from our streets over the past 24 years. The down side of that success is that our jails and prisons are now filled to overflowing-a state prison system designed to hold 12,000 inmates housing as many as 26,000-and an alternative to incarceration had to be found. It cost our taxpayers nearly $20,000 per inmate per year, and the federal courts have been threatening to take over our prison system much as they did the state’s mental health system years ago. That would cost us more if the prisons had to be operated under federal mandates and management.”
Since incarceration is not always the best answer, legal professionals began looking for effective alternatives. According to District Attorney Mike O’Dell, Drug Court has been the most successful and effective plan to address the drug crisis in our local communities. “Drug Court has saved the lives of nearly 200 addicts in Dekalb County since 1999. That translates into millions of dollars that can be spent on other programs and projects, like schools and roads. It has also significantly reduced the incidences of crime that would have been committed had these individuals remained addicted and on the streets trying to rob and steal to feed their drug habits. Drug dealers and pushers will still be aggressively prosecuted and incarcerated, while we seek, through, Drug Court, to focus on the issues associated with addiction.”
The Drug Court will operate in Four Phases, with Phase One being the most intense and structured. It will involve treatment sessions, frequent drug tests, and weekly appearances before the Drug Court Judge. Each phase diminishes in intensity as the participant demonstrates strengthening recovery. Regular appearances before the judge continue throughout the entire 18-month program.
“We are very blessed to have one of the finest, and most dedicated District Court Judges in the entire state,” O’Dell pointed out. “Judge Carver has already distinguished herself as a terrific judge in the short time she has been on the bench. She is dedicated to doing all she can to improve the lives of all Cherokee County citizens, and her willingness to take on the responsibility of Drug Court Judge-with no additional compensation or salary-demonstrates her selfless desire to join forces with the rest of us to ensure the success of our Drug Court.”
“What makes the Cherokee County program so incredible is that it is being financed solely by community donations and assistance from the Cherokee County Commission. We applied for a federal grant, but were denied the funds for this year. We still have hope that some time in the next two years we will receive federal help; however, due to the nature of methamphetamine addiction, we know we can not wait that long to get our Drug Court up and running. We established a Partnership for a Drug-Free Cherokee with the help of community leaders, including Jerry Culberson, Dub Ellis, Melvyn Salter and Bobbie Howell. Our goal is to raise $150,000 to help us get started. Deputy District Attorney Scott Lloyd graciously agreed to serve as the Drug Court Prosecutor-also at no additional pay. Court Referral employees Vicki Moon and Michael Terrell will serve as coordinators for the Drug Court Team and will be responsible for the day-to-day activities of Drug Court.”
O’Dell points out that it is the Cherokee county Commission that deserves much of the credit for the new Drug Court. “Commissioners Kathryn Black, Dale Welsh, Harold Woodall and Earl Westbrook have been steadfast in their commitment to bringing the Cherokee County Drug Court to fruition. It was their endorsement and financial commitment that served as the impetus for us to move forward. For over two years we dreamed together of the day when we could take pride in having, and operating our own Drug Court. November 12 will be a proud day for all of us. It will be the beginning of a new era in justice for us all, and will demonstrate what cooperation, dedication and vision can accomplish. We will be changing lives through this wonderful program, and I thank all the commissioners for their support. It is also great to see our new Chairman, Kirk Day, get on board and demonstrate a willingness to build upon the foundation laid by his predecessor. Clearly, working together, we can accomplish great things in our special community of Cherokee County.