Pubdate: Sun, 22 Dec 2002
Source: The News-Gazette (IL)
Copyright: 2002 The News-Gazette
Author: Mary Schenk
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


URBANA - Terasa Crayton said when her children get off their school
bus on Mondays they no longer worry if she will be there to meet them.

That's because the 28-year-old Decatur woman graduated from Champaign
County's drug court program last Monday after having been reporting
weekly since March 2001.

"They used to wonder, 'Are you coming back?'" she said of her
9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

There were at least three or four Mondays during the last two years
when she didn't come home, having been sent to jail for a few days
because she had used marijuana in violation of the program rules.

Crayton, who grew up in Champaign, was one of four graduates last week
from the program, which will complete its fourth year this coming
March. Hers is the sixth graduating class, bringing to 21 the number
who have successfully completed drug court by staying off drugs for a

Since 1999, there have been 143 people sentenced to drug court, which
is administered by Associate Judge Jeff Ford. He leads a team of
representatives from the state's attorney and probation offices,
Prairie Center for Substance Abuse, and TASC  Treatment Alternatives
for Safe Communities  who review each client's case weekly and make
recommendations for further treatment. Those making progress get
positive reinforcement. Those who relapse get sanctions, like a few
days in jail.

Ford said he relies on the recommendations of the treatment experts,
but ultimately the decisions are his.

"There are currently 51 participants in the program," said Mike Carey,
the court services officer assigned to the drug court cases. "Some
have been in for more than a year but haven't graduated because they
haven't met all of the qualifications."

"It takes a lot of effort and hard work to get to graduate," said
Carey. "They have to have one year of clean drug tests, and they're
tested every week."

They also have to enroll in and get a sponsor for a 12-step program
like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and be actively
involved in drug treatment and counseling through the Prairie Center
for Substance Abuse.

And "when they can handle it," Ford said, participants are required to
get a job or get in school.

"It's a real high-risk clientele," added Ford, who has presided over
drug court since it started on March 3, 1999.

"Most of these people have been through the criminal justice system
multiple times, and the vast majority have been to the penitentiary.
Almost all have been ordered to get substance abuse treatment before.
Some have attempted. Some have not. Some have successfully completed
treatment but are back in front of me, which, I tell them, I don't
think is successfully completing it. This is a tough population," he

Crayton admits the sentence to drug court was no picnic.

First convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance in
early 1999, she was sentenced to standard probation, but that was
later revoked because she possessed marijuana, her drug of choice
since about 1997. In March 2001, she was resentenced to two years of
drug court probation.

"That first year  oh, goodness. I just didn't cooperate," she said. "I
didn't care what they said. Judge Ford sent me back and forth to jail.
He put me back and forth in residential (treatment). I hated him; I
hated the people from Prairie Center; I hated Mike Carey," she said.

Her epiphany came around Thanksgiving 2001 when Ford gave her her
harshest sanction so far  three weeks in the county jail. Previous
sanctions been for two or three days in jail, she


"Once I was in the county, I had a spiritual awakening. This is not
what I want," she said.

Part of the reason for the lengthy sanction was that she was pregnant
with her third child  now six months old  and was still using
marijuana. Ford and the others wanted the unborn child protected.

Crayton, a single parent, said during that time she also began to
comprehend what a struggle it was for her sisters and her parents who
were caring for her older children.

"Everyone was hurt. They felt like I deceived them, which I did," she

At 28, Crayton is not your typical drug court graduate. Carey said
middle-aged program members are usually more motivated.

"They're tired. They've ma-tured. A lot of people, especially teens,
you try to tell them what drugs will do them, and they don't believe
you. Once you've been on drugs for a while, more mature people
understand what you're telling them," he said.

But many are resistant to even the best efforts to help

Citing what he calls his "ugly numbers," Carey said of the 143
sentenced to drug court over the last four years, 75 have not made it
and were sentenced to prison.

"Only one person has not made it to graduation and not gone to
(prison) but was resentenced to probation. The point is, if you don't
make it on drug court, 99 percent go to the Department of
Corrections," Carey said.

Unlike drug courts that operate in some other counties, Champaign
County has chosen to deal with people "well involved in their
addiction," Carey said.

Ford said he believes the number of drug courts in Illinois is now in
the high teens. Vermilion County's program reaches its one-year
anniversary in January. So far, no one has graduated.

Unlike Vermilion County's program, which recently received a federal
grant, Champaign County's is community-sponsored, meaning there's no
money earmarked just for drug court. Probation picks up the tab for
the weekly drug tests and other expenses related to Carey's work;
Prairie Center absorbs the costs that clients can't pay. No one is
turned away for inability to pay.

"Some programs only take people early in their addiction. We have
chosen to take more severely addicted people with more criminal
history," Carey said.

That means more work for everyone, including the participants and the
counselors, and more setbacks.

But with all the frustrations, Ford, Carey and Al Harris, the Prairie
Center liaison to drug court, all agree the effort is worth it.

"We are making a lot of changes in people's lives," Ford said, adding
that even if they do end up in prison, it's with more knowledge and
skills than before they were sentenced to drug court.

Considering that the annual cost to incarcerate a person is now
estimated at $21,654, keeping a person out of the penitentiary has to
be more cost-efficient. Harris said he doubts a year's worth of
counseling through his agency would add up to $21,000, although he
said he didn't know the actual costs.

"It's rewarding to hear these people say that they now see the things
we told them from the beginning  that they can get their lives, their
possessions back," Carey said. "To see these people now have their own
apartments, job, to have been clean and stay clean, it's very rewarding."

Crayton agreed. She currently works at a Burger King but plans to get
her GED soon and start working toward a certified nursing assistant's
degree in January.

"Before drug court, I didn't know what I wanted to do, where to go. I
knew how to get money to get me some weed. I wasn't a responsible
person," she said. "(Drug court) is really not that bad. It helps you
grab hold of your life." 
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