August 27 , 2018
As the number of drug overdoses nationwide continues to surge – the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that a record 72,000 Americans died from overdoses last year – not every Court can say that it is saving defendants' lives. Not so for the drug courts in operation around Illinois.
Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns has presided over Cook County's Rehabilitative Alternative Probation (RAP) and Women's Rehabilitative Alternative Probation (WRAP) programs for eight years.
Cook County Circuit Judge Charles Burns.
He calls drug courts "criminal justice reform at its finest" and is amazed at how the program has changed since 2010. It now has around 100 participants and graduates 25 each year between ceremonies held in November and May. Participants must go through 4 stages in a process that takes about two years, but can be completed faster depending on the individual. The stages involve addiction treatment, participation in self-help groups to prevent relapses, employment, transition seminars and expungement of convictions. It is a team effort between the judge, probation officers, state's attorneys, public defenders and treatment providers.
"I would have gone to a penitentiary if not for this program. I didn't know how to handle addiction and I got a sponsor and frequent meetings that gave me the help I need," one participant said. "After you've been through the system a while, you realize that Judge Burns is someone who really cares. He makes you want to do better for yourself, your family and the whole system."
Another current participant passed up several jobs to join the Chicago Transit Authority's Second Chance Program: "I'm trying to become a role model to the other guys and they can see that you can get a job and get clean. It's all about the support. I owe a lot to my probation officer who asked me if I needed more help when I was struggling. I'm grateful for this Court because it saved my life."
In Illinois, there are 108 Problem-Solving Courts (PSC), including Drug/DUI, Mental Health and Vet Courts. PSC are broken into:
- 65 Drug Courts (includes one DUI)
- 27 Mental Health
- 16 Vet Courts
There are 41 that have been Certified through the Illinois Supreme Court and many that are very close to becoming Certified.
Kendall County recently graduated its first drug court class and currently has 15 participants. Judge John McAdams noted the program's significant savings to taxpayers – $23,400 per year to send an individual to jail versus $7,670 per year to go through drug court.
LaSalle County recently submitted its application for a drug court and has already received a full year of funding ($124,335) from Adult Redeploy Illinois. Circuit Judge Cynthia Raccuglia will preside over the drug court.
The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) worked closely with the Special Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Justice and Mental Health Planning, to establish the PSC Standards, outlining how the PSC should operate. AOIC provides training and technical assistance to PSC in the development and operation of PSC and monitor compliance with the Standards and Best Practices through operational reviews of the court programs. Operational reviews include review of program materials (policy and procedures and handbooks) and conducting a site visit to the PSC to observe staffing and court and to interview the PSC team members.
Additional information regarding Problem-Solving Courts, including the Standards and application, can be found at http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Probation/Problem-Solving_Courts/Problem-Solving_Courts.asp