100th graduate of Cass drug court was inspired to get clean for family

jlondberg@demo-mo.comFebruary 16, 2017 

One measure of success for deterring criminals can be easily quantified: after indictment and parole or probation, did they return to their criminal ways or reform?

At the Jackson County drug court, the statistics on reforming addicts, many of whom commit offenses in pursuit of the next high, reveal much.

The recidivism rate is a measurement of the percentage of people who, after release from treatment with the drug court or incarceration, commit a subsequent offense. At the drug court, the rate is less than 10 percent the past two years.

The Missouri Department of Corrections reported a nearly 50 percent recidivism rate in 2005, and roughly 40 percent in 2012.

“We see drugs as either the driver for conduct or the problem causing the conduct,” said Dion Sankar, the Jackson County drug court’s program administrator.

That mindset could be contributing to the court’s success in weening addicts from drugs compared to prison.

“We try to be a little more holistic now as opposed to just condemning folks for being addicted to drugs,” Sankar said. “It’s a more comprehensive way to get folks into our program and set them up for success.”

Participants of the program are assessed based on their risks and tendences, and then placed into one of four categories. The program, implemented in 2015, may be helping to reduce the court’s recidivism rate even further.

Before 2015, the rate hovered above 10 percent. With the new program, the rate has dropped to roughly 6.5 percent, though the sample size and relative newness of the program limit the statistical significance.

However, another measurement is statistically significant, according to Craig Reich, drug court database administrator: Graduation rates are up markedly since the new program. Before 2015, less than 50 percent of participants graduated. In 2015 and after, about 60 percent have successfully completed the program.

“The new treatment model has been one that has improved the way we handle folks,” Sankar said. “I think we’re trending upward.”

In Cass County, joy recently filled a room usually marked by a somber feel.

Three recovering addicts were celebrated their sobriety Feb. 1, in the very courthouse where they had previously faced criminal charges.

The Cass County drug court program, which started in 2005, offers an inexpensive and effective rehabilitation while diverting criminally charged addicts from prison. And its 100th graduate smiled modestly as camera bulbs flashed and an audience of about 100 applauded.

Shane Craig, a man of few words, had once told Stephanie Roberts, a probation and parole officer, that he needed to see his son to stay sober.

“I remember telling him, ‘Shane, you need to switch that thinking,’ ” Roberts said at the graduation. She offered this advice to him then: “You don’t need to see your son to become sober; you need to become sober to see your son.”

Craig’s 11-year-old son, Ryan, watched from the first row of benches as his father shook Rumley’s hand.

Craig said the drug court program helped to return his sense of autonomy — that he came to learn he could make choices with positive effects on his life.

“My son has been my life and I got distracted from that,” Craig said. “My newfound sobriety has led me back to being in his life.”

Nancy Carter, Craig’s grandmother, attended the ceremony. She credited the drug court program with saving her grandson’s life.

Craig’s mother, Debra Sherrow, had her doubts when her son was admitted to the program.

But at his graduation, only pride showed on her face. And tears.

Judge Michael Rumley touted the drug court program for its fiscal and rehabilitative benefits. He said it costs about $7,000 per participant per year to run, while prison costs approximately $36,000 per inmate.

The recidivism rate, or rate that an offender commits another crime after treatment or incarceration, is just 10 percent for drug court graduates, according to Rumley. That’s compared to roughly 40 percent for released inmates across Missouri.

“We do it for 20 to 25 percent of the cost with a five times greater success rate,” Rumley said. “It’s a win-win.”

Drug court participants are surrounded by a support team, who guide them to finding housing, holding down a job and earning a G.E.D. if necessary.

Many rely on the social safety net before coming into the program.

“The result of meeting our requirements is they get off food stamps and state aid,” Rumley said, “which is an even greater savings than by sending them to the Department of Corrections.”

Walter Kruse, who graduated in 2013 from Cass County drug court, said the program helped him to overcome years of substance addiction, end a toxic relationship, secure a steady job and acquire housing.

He attributes much of his success to the program. Without it, he said, he may have achieved sobriety for a short period but not in the sustainable way that he speaks of with a tone of pride and gratitude.

Kruse celebrated his fifth year of sobriety last month.

Local organizations lend support to the program. Rumley listed the Elk’s Lodge, Lions Club, Heartland Baptist Fellowship and University of Missouri Extension Center for their contributions. He also thanked employers in town for giving participants an opportunity to work.

“Without outside support groups, no one would succeed in this program,” Rumley said.

As Craig and the three other graduates, who wished not to be named, celebrated the evening, Rumley called the graduation of the 100th drug court participant a “milestone.”

Presiding Judge William Collins, who delivered a speech before the graduation, said Rumley’s dedication to the program has contributed to its success since its inception.

“(Rumley) always seems to get the best out of everybody on the team,” Collins said. “He expects excellence.”

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