Drug Court remains crucial part of specialty courts

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Michael Montero spoke at the most recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon and provided an update of the ongoing adult drug court program statistics and gave an overview of specialty court programs offered in Humboldt County. 

Montero reported that there are currently 3,454 active drug court programs in the United States, with 150,000 individuals served by drug courts each year. He said drug court programs have been found to reduce recidivism nationally by 58% and estimated the local recidivism reduction due to drug court to be between 75-80%. 

“The drug court program is an 18-month-long court program and it is really an intensive way to supervise people and provide them with treatment services,” said Montero. “If a person comes into our adult drug court, in that 18 months, they’re expected to have housing, employment, a GED or adult diploma and obtain treatment for whatever the addiction is that they’re afflicted by.” 

Montero explained that specialty court is a generic term for all of the programs the court facilitates.

The specialty court service provider is the Family Support Center, so individuals enrolled in a specialty court program go there to get an assessment to determine their level of treatment needs and then they are expected to follow through with treatment recommendations. 

The Family Support Center provides mental health treatment, outpatient drug and alcohol treatment and family programs such as the 16-week celebrating families program and family counseling in Winnemucca. 

“I think that for us, because we’re a smaller community and we have some really good services, we have the ability to really personally engage with people in a smaller community and I think that improves our rates over what some of the national rates would be,” said Montero. 

Between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2018, Montero reported that 45 participants completed a Humboldt County Adult Drug Court program intake, with an average age of 29 years old. At intake during this period, 38% reported methamphetamine as their drug of choice, 27% marijuana, 24% heroin/opiates, 9% alcohol and 2% other, respectively. 

Of the 45 individuals reported above, eight participants were removed from the program; including five unsuccessfully discharged, two absconded (ran away) and one medically discharged. One participant was transferred to another jurisdiction and eight have successfully graduated. 

Montero reported that 28 of the above 45 participants still remain in the program as active participants. The number of participants employed since intake has more than tripled, all participants that reported homeless at intake are now housed, 89% of active participants are currently employed and have health insurance, and only two participants are without a valid driver’s license. 

“If we have people that are unemployed in our program we require them to do community service until they secure employment,” said Montero. 

From July 2004 when the program started to present, Montero reported that 449 individuals in Humboldt County have received mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, supervision, case management, housing assistance, inpatient treatment services and parenting classes through specialty court programs. 

“I’ll go into many businesses in town where there will be a graduate of one of our programs employed there, or maybe even now own the business and I think that’s pretty impressive,” said Montero. “one of our recent graduates just bought her own business and others received college diplomas.” 

The specialty court programs are funded by federal grants and drug court programs often include participation over a series of months or years, frequent and random drug tests, treatment for substance use disorders, immediate rewards and sanctions, individualized case management services and support and encouragement from the drug court team. 

Drug courts are reported to serve a variety of purposes and services to the community such as providing treatment for substance use disorders and mental health needs, lifelong recovery services, secure education, employment, housing, producing tax-paying productive citizens, helping to break the cycle of addiction in families, and reducing re-arrests, re-incarcerations, substance abuse, overdoses, emergency room admissions and foster care placements. 

Montero said that although approximately $5 million dollars in federal grants has been utilized in Humboldt County for specialty court programs over the past ten years, participants also must pay to be in the programs due to federal funding limitations and so that they “have their own skin in the game.” 

Montero has been a judge for the Sixth Judicial District Court for the past ten years. 

Julia Dufurrena is the coordinator for all of the specialty court programs including Adult Drug Court, DUI Court, Mental Health Court, Family Treatment Court and Juvenile Court. Montero and Dufurrena are attending the National Drug Court conference with approximately 9,000 total drug court professionals outside Washington DC this week. Montero said the conference provides opportunities to network with other drug court professionals and receive educational training. 

“The specialty court programs serve as a way to see that people have an opportunity at getting treatment to change their lives and behaviors, and to try to avoid that recycling of people coming through the court system,” said Montero. “Not only through the court system, but through the hospital and law enforcement; to try to break that recidivism of people through the court systems and ancillary services.