Hamilton County Drug Court helps offenders stay clean, avoid prison

Hamilton County Drug Court helps offenders stay clean, avoid prison

February 7th, 2012 by Todd South in News

Rodney Smith, left, gives his dog Carlos a kiss as Judge Rebecca Stern holds him and hands Rodney a certificate stating that he has graduated from Drug Court early Monday afternoon.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 67 -- Drug court graduates since 2006

  • 61 -- Current drug court enrollees

  • 545 -- Years in state prison total enrolled class faces

  • $12 million -- Net savings of drug court time versus state prison sentences

  • 14 -- Minimum months required in program

  • 16 -- Average months to complete program

  • 9 -- Average state prison sentence in years

Source: Hamilton County Drug Court

Rodney Smith clutched Carlos, his black-and-white Chihuahua, as he stood before a standing room-only crowd of more than 100 people in court.

Smith, 41, spent the past year going through the Hamilton County Drug Court and graduated Monday. After the ceremony in Criminal Court, where he was one of nine graduates, Smith said he had spent the last 20 years addicted to drugs.

He had been through rehabilitation programs in California and Tennessee, but nothing stuck, he said. But a helpful probation officer, random drug screens and prison time staring him in the face got him through this time.

The threat of state prison motivates drug addicts to enter and follow the recovery program, said Elaine Kelly, drug court coordinator. But it's not a bad way to save money, too.

It cost about $10.89 per day to send Smith through drug court, or a total of about $4,000.

Without drug court, Smith would have faced five years in state prison at a daily cost of $63.41, about $115,000 all told.

Drug court isn't diversion; nearly all the 61 people in drug court have multiple felonies. The court's coordinators work with prosecutors to identify which people are good candidates.

Hamilton County Community Corrections Officer Sherri Bradford was Smith's probation officer and helped get him in the program. Bradford was working with him while he was on house arrest for identity theft charges, then he tested positive for methamphetamine.

"She knew I was going to kill myself," Smith told the crowd Monday.

She had him arrested.

"At the time I wasn't real happy about it," he said to a roomful of laughter.

After Monday's graduation ceremony, Bradford explained how, in her experience as a federal, juvenile and community corrections probation officer, she's seen a difference in drug court's effects.

"They address the addiction," she said.

Drugs and crime may be closely related, but there's a subtle difference that drug court can help discover, she said.

"You have criminals who sometimes abuse drugs," she said, "and you have addicts who unfortunately pick up criminal charges."

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6347.