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Drug Court strives to help addicts heal

Thursday, February 8, 2007

When compared to other substance abuse recovery methods, drug courts are a relatively new concept, but they are effective, according to Judge John Dan Kemp, who presides over the Independence County Drug Court.

He knows -- he has seen his drug court help drug-addicted men and women with families overcome their addiction and avoid jail time.

Kemp's drug court was started by Kemp as well as the combined efforts of Judges John Harkey, Tim Weaver and Stephen Choate. It serves all counties within Arkansas's 16th Judicial District as an alternative to incarceration for individuals convicted of non-violent criminal actions in drug-related cases.

In counties across the state, drug courts are intended to be a positive and direct way to tackle drug and alcohol abuse, Kemp said.

Since the program began in October 2003, Kemp's drug court has had 29 participants, six of which have completed the entire process and been released from probation without re-offending.

The system is a team process that functions within the existing court structure to address social problems and help willing individuals, according to Kemp.

"It is no secret that drug and alcohol abuse plays an enormous role in a majority of the criminal, family and juvenile cases that come before (Arkansas) courts," Kemp said. "Substance abuse effects more than the abuser ... that is what drug court programs help to address -- the variety of effects that a drug abuser's actions can have."

Kemp said drug courts are unlike the traditional court systems in that they establish a relationship with offenders. Generally, once an offender is sentenced, the courts have no further contact with the individual unless that person re-offends; this system operates under a very different approach, according to Kemp.

"The drug court movement asks the court system to do something it is not frequently called upon to do -- to believe in the possibility of real change and in positive power of education, support and personal commitment and to recognize that a transformation in one part of a person's life can have a profound effect on every part," he said.

Kemp said his drug court is available to individuals charged with felony offenses in Stone, Izard or Fulton County Circuit Courts. Offenders must be willing to address their substance abuse addiction, be recommended as a potential participant by the prosecuting attorney and meet certain eligibility guidelines.

"The former director of the Office of U.S. National Drug Control Policy said, 'If you don't like paying for jails, if you don't like a waste of tax dollars, then you'll like the concept of drug courts. This is an initiative that's been working,'" Kemp said. "The system considers the larger context of (an offender's) life -- as well as the future of that individual in the community -- rather than having to resort to unproductive incarceration."

All citizens should continue to advocate for funds that can expand the success of drug courts, he said.

Those with questions regarding the program can contact Linda Boone, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for the Independence County drug court, at 870-698-2264 or go online to www.dcc.ar.us/drugcourts for statistical information.

Currently there are 28 drug courts across Arkansas.

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