It can be said this is where drug court truly begins

(Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles looking at the drug court program in Livingston County.)

Drug court clients have to start their journey to recovery somewhere, and that somewhere is getting arrested. This brings law enforcement into the picture. The true beginning to drug court graduation is being arrested.

“I guess this is the gateway,” said Jim Woolford. Woolford was chief of police in Pontiac until just a few months ago when he became city administrator. He served on the drug court team from its inception in 2017 until he had to step down when he changed jobs. Current Pontiac Police Chief Dan Davis has taken his place on the team.

A drug court of sorts began more than a decade ago and the team was limited. The police were not part of it. The current drug court set up came about in 2017 behind the drive of a determined member of the Probation Department.

“Heidi Zeidenstein from probation had been working toward a drug court program and getting certified and part of that process was to partner up,” Woolford said. “She came to us and asked if we wanted to be a part of it.

“As a chief, I was very much interested in being a part of that because we do see lots of repeat drug users who weren’t necessarily traffickers who were people with problems.”

It was from this perspective that allowed for potential candidates to be found. Having law enforcement as another tool to help fix the problem was key.

“At the time, we were seeing lots of heroin overdoses,” Woolford said. “That, in itself, was a problematic because heroin overdoses create lots of medical emergencies. I felt like it was important for the police department to be part of that and I wanted to be on it, myself, so I volunteered.”

Woolford said that his take on it is that the police are caretakers, that the police were the “eyes on the ground.”

“We would make arrests but we would document observations what we saw in those arrests,” Woolford noted.

An example he used was arresting someone for theft and understanding that the theft wasn’t so much the issue but rather a means to being able to purchase drugs to support a habit. Woolford said that police were looking for users who were not dealers who might be helped by the program.

There was a safe-passage program through Pontiac Police that allowed for users to voluntarily hand in their drugs and be taken to rehabilitation. But this wasn’t for everyone.

“For some, we found some needed a little different motivation and drug court was able to provide that,” Woolford said. “It was this watch guard and there were consequences and some people needed that structure. That’s why I thought it was important that law enforcement was involved.”

The police pretty much know who most of the users are and know who is on drug court. Woolford said this is important because the officers would document interactions with the clients, including how they were treated and the issues were.

“Not every law enforcement incident ends in an arrest, we deal with a lot of the same people over and over whether they were witnesses or just there,” Woolford said. “That provided some input when we had our meetings.”

Another factor is that with an understanding of the drug court comes the knowledge that there will be relapses.

“We knew statistically a majority of people were going to relapse,” Woolford said. “Relapsing is part of the program and that was one thing, from a law enforcement aspect, took a minute to get used to.

“We’re used to someone who violates something gets arrested. Drug court is not necessarily the case. You can relapse and get a therapeutic adjustment.

“I went in open-minded. It would be easy to go in skeptical because I’m a cop, but I did it because I had seen enough with officers responding with NARCAN to opioid events,” Woolford added. “We knew that drug court was just one more piece of the pie. I thought it was an important part that we try to continue to try and do everything we can, even of the statistics were 15-20 percent success rates. To change that one life from hopeless drug user who lost their kids to employed, getting promoted and got their kids back is a side that law enforcement doesn’t see a whole lot.”

NARCAN is a medication that PPD has been using to bring drug overdose victims out of their high. He said that it’s like becoming drunk and that’s when the subject might become aggressive.

“What we don’t see are the people who succeed getting out of opioids,” Woolford said. “That’s because they’re no longer in trouble. But they’re there.”

There have been success stories. Woolford related a story of the first drug court graduate from the current set up. He said the person went from being a well-known user and that he bucked the system by succeeding.

The actual first drug court graduate came before the program was certified and working in the manner that it is currently. Rebecca Hinshaw, who has been sober for nearly 13 years, made it through the program and is now a contributor to the drug court team.

“I was happy to have a chance because I was looking at going to prison,” Hinshaw said in a recent interview. “I thought I was going to prison for five years and I had already been there, so I didn’t want to go back. I needed help.”

Hinshaw also pointed out that she was able ti understand that the police weren’t there to cause trouble, they were there to help. She said that thought process is important for clients to make it through and succeed.

“She was a good motivator because she helped mentor a lot of those drug court clients,” Woolford said of Hinshaw. “She was a good example of what you could accomplish. It was nice to be around someone who got out of it, who also had some intimate knowledge of, ‘yep, those are the signs that they’re using again and these are things to look for and these are what we should do. We learned lots of useful community-minded tips for officers to use on patrol when they were dealing with the drug court clients in non-arrest settings.”

Woolford said he enjoyed his time on the team and that he tried not to miss meetings and sessions. He said that it is his belief that even those who didn’t graduate still came out of the program with a different perspective. He believes those people might still have demons to exorcise, but that they also might be seeing the police in a different light, much like Hinshaw.

It’s not just Pontiac Police being involved. Dwight’s former Chief Tim Henson was on the team, as well. When he retired, current Chief Mike Nolan stepped in. The other agencies, such as the sheriff’s department and the Fairbury-Forrest and Chatsworth departments also provide assistance in some manner.

“While the county and Fairbury and Chatsworth don’t have a member on the drug court team, they’re still our eyes and ears on the street,” Woolford said. “They will know who the drug court clients are and provide input. All the other agencies play a role through making an arrest, making a referral or providing information that we can pass along to the drug court team.”

Woolford thinks that it would be good for police officers to take part in seeing what takes place within the drug court program and system.

“I think, at from the law enforcement perspective, a drug court session and a drug court graduation are things all law enforcement officers should be a part of, should go to,” Woolford said. “I think it’s important because they so often deal with the aftermath of a drug use, whether it’s the death, a broken family, the victimization that occurs from drug use without seeing that cycle end. A drug court graduation is a nice reminder to put that jaded edge back in your pocket and remember that all people are worthy of life and everyone is subject to change.

“It’s that part of life that law enforcement doesn’t encounter. We’re not a part of that. We’re supposed to be removed from the judicial system and drug court offers that unique insight of the fruits of all that labor come full circle. To see somebody graduate is pretty amazing.”

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMihQFodHRwczovL3d3dy5wb250aWFjZGFpbHlsZWFkZXIuY29tL3N0b3J5L25ld3MvMjAyMi8xMS8xOC9kcnVnLWNvdXJ0LWl0LWNhbi1iZS1zYWlkLXRoaXMtaXMtd2hlcmUtZHJ1Zy1jb3VydC10cnVseS1iZWdpbnMvNjk2NTUzNTAwMDcv0gEA?oc=5

Comments are closed.