JASPER, Tenn. - In an effort to help some of its residents overcome their drug addictions, Marion County commissioners unanimously approved a move to give the money in the DUI fund to the 12th Judicial District's drug court last week.
Officials said the money in the fund can be used only for treatment, which is how the drug court got its start.
Circuit Court Judge Buddy Perry, who presides over the drug court in Franklin County, told the board that the money will go to a worthy cause and be used only to help those from Marion County.
"The concept is to take addicts who are committing crimes and bring them into your system," he said. "Then you try to deal with their addiction and give them consequences when their conduct doesn't conform to the behavior necessary to recover."
The drug court overrides the slowness of the normal court system because offenders in the program must see the judge every Thursday night, Perry said, and if they test positive for drugs or step out of line, the consequences are almost immediate.
Offenders chosen for the program must waive their right to an attorney, officials said.
Perry said everyone in the program starts with time in jail, and those from Marion County are jailed in Franklin County so they can attend the drug court each week.
Treatment options depend on the individual, he said.
"We've found that the 28-day programs don't really work very well," Perry said. "We try to send folks to at least a 90-day treatment, and then we try to get some others in programs that are much longer than that. The idea is treat them and work with them. It's a long-term process."
The drug court has been operating in Franklin County for six years, officials said, and in that time 30 people have completed the 36-month program.
Only one of those 30 has been re-incarcerated, Perry said.
"I'm enthusiastic about what we're doing," he said. "What I do every day [as a circuit court judge] is sometimes kind of sad. It's not fun sending people off to the penitentiary or the county jail. On Thursday nights, though, I usually get to see people who are smiling."
Perry said he wishes the program could be 100 percent successful, but that's just not realistic.
"We know people that have addictions are going to have problems along the way," he said. "We can't wave a magic wand and stop their drug problem. We know there are going to be failures."
Marion County Mayor John Graham said he attended one of the drug court sessions and came away "impressed" with what he saw.
"There's no nonsense in there," he said. "It's obvious that [the offenders] realize they're fortunate to be in this program. They know it's their last chance. The money is there, and it can only be used for this type of situation. It's paying to help our people."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.