Pubdate: Fri, 28 Sep 2001
Source: Nevada Appeal (NV)
Copyright: 2001 Nevada Appeal
Author: Susie Vasquez 
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Carson City's new Western Regional Drug Court, which heard its first cases
this week, is designed to help seriously addicted users beat their addiction
and give them a new chance at life.

Those arrested on charges of possession, use, or being under the influence
of illegal drugs can choose between an intense, closely monitored
rehabilitation program or take their chances in court.

Lyon County District Court Judge Archie Blake said it's a rigorous, tightly
monitored program that works.

"It takes the criminal offender, gets them off drugs and makes them
productive citizens," he said. "They have to have jobs, pay for their
treatment and complete their high school education. They must straighten up
their acts before they graduate. If not, they don't get the final benefit --
that is, getting their records (for this offense) sealed."

Diane Crowe, chief deputy of Nevada's Public Defender's Office, said the
program is widely accepted at the national level, where the success rate
hovers around 70 percent.

With few exceptions, drug possession in Nevada is a felony and involves an
appearance before justice court and a preliminary hearing, usually in 15
days, to determine probable cause. The case then goes to district court for
arraignment and trial.

By pleading guilty early in the process, mid- to high-risk offenders are
diverted to District Court, then Drug Court, shortening the process by five
or six weeks.

Aimed at the kind of drug addiction that puts thousands into Nevada's prison
system annually, the measure should free up the clogged court and prison
systems as well as help offenders address their problems.

"In my personal experience, and that would be since 1980, there aren't
enough treatment programs around," said Storey County Public Defender Sharon
Claassen. "If someone is shooting methamphetamines and we put them in a
program, they are treated until they sober up. They're on their own for
followup counseling and don't have a lot of success. A thief has a better
chance of completing probation than a drug user, because drugs are such a
heavy duty addiction.

"We're hoping to short-circuit the process and get these people into
counseling very quickly," Claassen said. "This measure is designed to aid
those drug offenders, most involved with methamphetamines. The goal is to
keep them out of prison. If they fail, they must come back to court for

The program is selective. Offenders with a history of violent crime or sex
offenses will be refused. Those that are accepted start with counseling
three times a week. They are required to appear in court every two weeks and
are tested for drugs regularly.

Participants must go to counseling three times a week and pay $50 a week for
the privilege. They must participate for at least a year and program
requirements are tailored to individual needs.

"They can be required to attend a wide range of classes, including parenting
classes. Whatever they need to get lives in order," Crowe said. "The program
is keeping people out of prison, working and off drugs. It's getting
families back together."

The federal government provided court team training for local judges and
officials. Locally five counties, including the First, Ninth and Third
judicial districts pooled their resources to create the program, which is
funded by the state Legislature and participants, according to Blake.

He said the program owes its existence to the cooperation of a number of
district judges including Carson City District Court Judge William Maddox
and Judge Michael Griffin, Judge Archie Blake from Lyon County District
Court and Judge David Huff from Churchill County District Court.
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