OREGON COUNTY -- The first meeting of the recently appointed task force which is looking into establishing adult drug courts in the 37th Judicial District took place May 5 at the Howell County Courthouse in West Plains.
Thirty Seventh Judicial District Circuit Judge Richard Moore appointed the task force. The 37th Judicial District is composed of Howell, Oregon, Shannon and Carter Counties.
Ann Wilson, the alcohol and drug abuse coordinator with the Office of State Courts Administration, was at the meeting to discuss how the drug courts across the state work.
"Drug courts are designed to help selected non-violent offenders who have drug or alcohol problems," Judge Moore said.
He said these offenders would usually be placed on supervised probation instead of being sentenced to prison.
"Seventy percent of the crimes committed in Missouri involve drug and alcohol abuse," the judge said.
He said a drug court is different from the criminal court system. The judge said local authorities in each county will determine which offenders qualify for the court.
They would then be under close and ongoing supervision for as long as it takes for the offender to overcome the problem.
Moore said in some cases it might take a year and in other cases it could take as long as 18 to 24 months.
He said a team consisting of the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, therapist and probation officer will work alongside the judge to evaluate each offender's progress.
"Studies across the state have shown that someone who completes the drug court program will most likely overcome their drug addiction and is less likely to break the law than offenders who complete the traditional supervised probation," the judge said.
Moore said the first drug court will be established in Howell County and he hopes to have it operational by early next year.
"I think there is a need for not only adult drug courts but also juvenile drug courts in all four counties in the judicial district. Howell County already has an established juvenile drug court," Moore said.
Moore stressed the program will only be offered to non-violent offenders who have shown recognition of their problem and a desire to get help.
Moore said Wilson will be back in the area for more meetings concerning establishing the drug courts later in the year.