Short Takes: Spread Drug Court success to mental health

Short Takes: Spread Drug Court success to mental health

May 23rd, 2013 in Opinion Times

Traffic light enforcement camera equipment was once perched at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road in Red Bank.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Spread Drug Court success to mental health

On Monday, the 8-year-old Hamilton County Drug Court celebrated its 100th graduate - a nearly 30-year addict who officials said had been arrested on at least 96 different charges.

Nothing had changed the course of Jonas Richardson Jr.'s life and energized his own willpower to overcome drugs until he began his journey through drug court two years ago.

Program coordinator Elaine Kelly has said the program, begun in 2005, has functioned on a shoestring budget, funded with grants that are renewed each year. Participants also funded their own rehab by paying just over $97,000 in court fees and fines and more than $30,000 in child support payments as of late 2012.

Program participants must work or perform community service, and in 2011 they did more than 1,000 hours of it while attending group meetings, check-ins with their sponsors and taking both planned and surprise drug tests.

It isn't easy or pretty, but it has worked for 100 people here. It has changed the lives of those people and their families. It has cut crime, and that means the public, too, has benefited.

Such a testament should serve as a call to us that we should spread the success and begin a mental health court.

In New York, a mental health court program uses outpatient commitment and touts strong numbers: 77 percent fewer people hospitalized, 74 percent fewer homeless and 83 percent fewer arrested, according to statistics collected and analyzed by the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center.

If Hamilton County can make Drug Court a success, why not a mental health court?

Red Bank traffic cameras offered two lessons

In 2006, Red Bank police offered six-month statistics to justify the use of traffic cameras that were controversial from Day 1 after they were put into use in January of that year.

There had been a 50 percent reduction in accidents at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Ashland Terrace over the same six months of the year before and a 61 percent reduction in speeding, officers said.

But now, six years later -- and four months after the cameras were removed -- Red Bank officials are singing a different tune.

Accident rates have remained steady, fewer tickets have been issued and more people are traveling through Red Bank and seeing it as a place to visit and start businesses, according to Red Bank Mayor John Roberts.

So it would seem the cameras taught people who had to be in Red Bank that they must slow down and obey traffic signals. But the cameras also taught people who didn't have to be in Red Bank that they didn't want to be there.

Roberts said the city is seeing renewed interest in its business district -- both from visitors and potential new business.

Politics as usual in Tennessee's 4th District

Judging from the latest who's-who lineup in the 2014 state legislative races, politics will be business-as-usual in the Tennessee's 4th Congressional District -- gut-punching.

Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Chris Carroll has learned that veteran political strategist Chip Saltsman will be leading State Rep. Joe Carr's bid to unseat Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais.

Saltsman -- known as a "gritty campaign operative" [read here, gut-punching] will be taking on DesJarlais' effectiveness after it was revealed the anti-abortion incumbent and physician slept with two patients and attempted to persuade one to get an abortion.

Remember, Saltsman has a reputation built on opposition research -- which means finding out the dirt about an opponent.

On Monday, Carr said neither he nor Saltsman would be digging into DesJarlais' past. "I despise negative campaigning," Carr said. "I loathe it."

Granted, DesJarlais shouldn't need much more introduction to voters than he's already provided just by his own actions, but he did get re-elected even after that news came out.

Perhaps Saltsman is just what the doctor didn't order. Opps -- bad pun.