By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
After three years of planning, the 9th Judicial District Drug Court is taking its first steps.
Geared toward nonviolent, misdemeanor level offenders who have already served their jail sentence, the program targets people with substance abuse problems.
The ultimate goal is to give substance abusers the tools to live clean, productive lives and stay out of the criminal system, 9th Judical District Judge Ted Hartley said.
The court will handle cases from Curry and Roosevelt counties.
Its first participants will be selected by a committee today, according to 9th Judicial District Drug Court Administrator Robert Adam. Four referral applications had been submitted as of Tuesday, he said.
Participants sign a code of conduct contract before they embark on the intensive, holistic outpatient program which will span a minimum of 12 months, Adam said.
Requirements include up to five drug tests a week and attendance at a set number of substance abuse support group meetings, drug court group meetings, and individual counseling sessions.
Education, self improvement and life skills are also focal points of the program, Adam said.
“If they don’t have a GED, they are going to get a GED,” Adama said. “If they don’t have a job, they’re going to get a job.”
Essentially, the program makes substance abuse treatment another layer of probation or parole, backed with the power and authority of the courts.
Based on rewards and sanctions, those who violate their contracts can face penalties ranging from reduced curfews to jail time, Adam explained.
Growth of the program will be slow — officials expect 20 people will be accommodated in the first year of operation.
“I fell in love with the drug court because it gives people a chance,” said Adam, a former probation officer from Las Cruces.
Hoping to expand the program as it goes, Adam said future goals include family reunification and domestic violence courts — issues often intertwined with substance abuse.
Getting the program off the ground has been a long and arduous road. Organizers watched federal funding fall through and faced staffing issues, according to longtime supporter, District Judge Teddy Hartley.
They got the break they needed this year when the state Legislature picked up the tab and allotted $255,000 for the program, just the breath of life it needed, he said.
Acceptance into the program is stringent, although those convicted of misdemeanor level domestic violence can be considered.
“You’ve got to be afoul of the law somehow,” Hartley said.
Candidates are screened through a battery of substance abuse assessment tests, an interview with a clinician, a background check and more.
The results are forwarded to an eligibility committee comprised of representatives from the district attorney’s office, adult probation and parole, the public defender’s office, drug court staff, local law enforcement and the drug court judge.
“We’re starting slow and we’re trying to do it right. We have to remember just one (person) at a time, one-on-one is where we’re going to start,” Hartley said.