2016-10-06 / Courts

New drug court funded by grant

Addressing heroin epidemic

JUDGE STEPKA JUDGE STEPKA The 86th District Court has been given a $50,000 grant from the State Court Administrator’s Office to establish a new drug court.

The 86th District, which encompasses Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Antrim counties, created a Recovery Court in 2001.

The new drug court will be fashioned after Recovery Court, but designed specifically to address what has been called an opiate epidemic of heroin and prescription drugs. The court will also address an increase in the use of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Judge Michael S. Stepka has presided over Recovery Court for about 1 1/2 years — since the retirement of Judge Michael Haley, who founded it. District Court Judge Thomas J. Phillips will preside over Drug Court.

The drug court will be more restrictive than Recovery Court, Stepka said, requiring those in the program to be tested frequently for alcohol and drugs and attend several Narcotics Anonymous meetings a week.

“They are frankly harder to treat when there is a very strong addiction to an opiate, primarily heroin,” Stepka said.

Participants will also have group or individual counseling or both, meet with their probation officer frequently and have review hearings every other week to see how they are doing.

Prosecutors will be the gatekeepers for the program, deciding who is eligible, Stepka said.

In the specialized courts, the underlying alcoholism and addiction is treated, with people who’ve gone through programs getting back to work and becoming productive members of society rather than returning to their addiction, Stepka said.

Addictions aren’t lessoned by arrests or time in jail.

“The craving for the drug usually increases once they are out,” he said.

Drug and sobriety courts have been proven to reduce crime and unemployment, as statistics show that people charged with drug- and alcohol-related crimes who were sentenced in a specialty court are much less likely to re-offend.

The Michigan Supreme Court recently lauded the 86th District Recovery Court for its success, with statistics showing that less than 1 percent of its graduates are convicted of any new crime within two years of being admitted to the program, compared to 21 percent of similar offenders not in the program.

Stepka said those statistics are among the lowest in the state.

“It’s because these individuals are under restrictive terms of probation where they receive the community assistance and support that they would not receive if they had gotten a traditional jail sentence,” Stepka said.

Statewide, more than $10 million in grants was awarded to 81 courts to fund drug and sobriety courts in Michigan.

— by Patti Brandt Burgess

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