COCHISE COUNTY — Drug court will soon be coming back to Cochise County, an effort that judicial and law enforcement officials hope will help change the direction of defendants who commit petty crimes in order to support their addictions to illegal narcotics.
The court will begin in January in Sierra Vista on a trial basis once a week, said Cochise County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Candyce Pardee, who will preside over the hearings. She said drug court would then expand to other areas of the county.
The need for drug court in this area cannot be emphasized enough, said both Pardee and Cochise County Superior Court Judge Laura Cardinal, the county’s associate presiding judge who helped spearhead the return of the specialized tribunal.
Many defendants who are charged with petty offenses that spring from drug or alcohol addiction could benefit from such a court rather than going to prison, the judges and mental health experts say, because drug court aims to put the offender on a path of treatment and therapy in the hopes of a changed lifestyle. If the defendant, however, fails to follow the court’s edicts, then he or she goes to prison.
“Drug courts have demonstrated nationwide that these courts can have a maximum benefit for the participants in helping to change neural pathways so that those individuals with a high risk for recidivism, high need for treatment can get past the addictive behaviors,” Pardee said in an email to the Herald/Review. “The cost of this intensive system is much lower than the cost of incarceration and particularly the revolving door incarcerations.
“Those who were aware of the benefits of drug court wanted to re-establish the opportunity for drug/alcohol addicted individuals in the court. Trauma is one core concern behind addiction; our community has a long tradition of supporting our community members who are veterans who may have issues with trauma/PTSD and who would benefit from an alternative treatment court.
“Other types of less obvious trauma rooted in abuse, sexual abuse, discrimination may also result in drug and alcohol abuse by those individuals in an effort to numb the pain. Finally, so many people have become addicted to prescription pain pills that it has become a separate pandemic which needs to be addressed other than through incarceration.”
Cardinal, who shares most of the hefty load of criminal cases that flow through the court with Superior Court Presiding Judge Timothy Dickerson, agreed, saying that the majority of the matters she handles are usually linked to drugs, alcohol or both.
“I was seeing these drug addicts coming into criminal court, and I’m putting them on probation,” Cardinal said. “They use (again), then probation is violated. Then they’re back in jail, and they’re back in front of me.
“There is only so much that the court has at its disposal to address true addiction issues and the attendant petty crimes that they (addicts) commit in support of a drug addiction. “Probation basically tasks defendants with finding their own rehab. If they don’t, then they’re in violation of probation.”
The judge said addicts of any kind need structure and guidance, especially when it comes to finding their own path to recovery.
“They are not people who generally are capable of recognizing how to redirect their behavior,” Cardinal said. “They need constant reminders that there is another way. And that’s apparently what drug court can best do, be a constant and steady source of support and reminder, with sanctions that ‘Yes, you can live a better way and you can have a different and hopefully better life.’ “
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s website, there are more than 3,500 drug courts across the U.S., about half of which are adult treatment drug courts.
“Drug courts are specialized court docket programs that target adults charged with or convicted of a crime, youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have alcohol and other drug dependency problems,” the Department of Justice says.
“Although drug courts vary in target populations and resources, programs are generally managed by a multidisciplinary team including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community corrections officers, social workers, and treatment service professionals.
“Support from stakeholders representing law enforcement, the family, and the community is encouraged through participation in hearings, programming, and events such as graduation.
“Adult drug courts employ a program designed to reduce drug use relapse and criminal recidivism among persons charged with or convicted of a crime through risk and needs assessment, judicial interaction, monitoring and supervision, graduated sanctions and incentives, treatment, and various rehabilitation services. Juvenile drug treatment courts apply a similar approach that is tailored to the needs of youth with substance use disorders.
“These programs provide youth and their families with counseling, education, and other services to promote immediate intervention, treatment, and structure; improve level of functioning; address problems that may contribute to drug use; build skills that increase their ability to lead drug- and crime-free lives; strengthen the family’s capacity to offer structure and guidance; and promote accountability for all involved.”
Cardinal warned that Cochise County’s drug court will not be an easy trail.
“It will require people to enter a plea, it will be post-judgement,” she said “They’re not getting a freebie. This will not be deferred prosecution. They will plead, and the consequence will be participation in drug court. Failing drug court would then result in the standard sentence that otherwise would have been imposed.”
She said attorneys from both the defense and prosecution sides have been asking that drug court return to Cochise County. Cardinal also said law enforcement supports it wholeheartedly.
“It is an exciting time for the Drug Court Program to come back into the Cochise County Judicial System, and the Sheriff’s Office will work with the courts in a collective effort to help those who want help to succeed,” said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels. “This is a great program and has our full support to be there for those in need. When drug court was previously established, I made certain to attend every graduation as part of my commitment to the participants, and I fully intend to ensure I am waiting at the end of the congratulatory line for future graduations.”
Schow, the county’s court administrator and a probation official, agreed.
“Adult Drug Courts use proven evidence-based interventions which are extremely effective in helping move participants living with substance use out of the justice system and back into society as productive citizens,” Cochise County Superior Court Administrator John Schow said in an email. “Participation in drug courts keeps individuals in the community while participating in treatment; helps keep families intact and allows participants to remain employed.”
Once drug court begins, Pardee will preside over the weekly hearings. Schow said the new court will have its own administrator, Daniel Lopez.
Schow said the effort will be funded by a federal grant provided by the Arizona Supreme Court’s Administrative Office of Adult Probation Services.
“We were able to secure funding from them to send a team to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals conference,” Schow said. “The purpose was for them to be trained in the problem solving court’s evidence based practice model, learn about other resources and develop a network.”
As far as Cardinal is concerned, drug court can only provide a win-win in the county.
“We have so many addiction problems ,and we’re not emphasizing the treatment piece,” she said. “Drug court will emphasize the treatment piece. I figure we can keep doing the same thing over and over again, or we can try something different.”