Pubdate: Mon, 25 Aug 2003
Source: North County Times (CA)
Contact:  2003 North County Times
Author: Scott Marshall, Staff Writer 
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


VISTA -- Two drug treatment programs had done little to change James McCoy's

When he entered North County's Drug Court program, McCoy's wife had left, his
kids wouldn't speak to him, he had no job and no car, and he faced a new drug
possession charge. 

More than 15 months later, the 42-year-old Oceanside man said he is reunited
with his wife, takes his kids to their dentist and doctor appointments, has a
high school diploma, and he has a steady job. He is also poised for Tuesday
night when he will become part of the Drug Court's 20th graduating class in six

"It just put my life back together 100 percent," McCoy said of the Drug Court
program, which began in North County in January 1997 and exists today in
Superior Court branches countywide. "It's one of the hardest programs, but it's
one of the best for me."

The Drug Court brings together representatives from the district attorney's
office, the public defender's office, the Superior Court, local community
policing officers, the probation department, and a drug-treatment provider to
offer what one program official described as "the most intensive outpatient
program in the area."

Some who enter Drug Court already have failed out of other court-ordered
programs and have only one chance left at treatment instead of jail or prison.

For McCoy and the others who will "graduate" with him Tuesday, the chances of
staying out of the criminal justice system are good. The Superior Court
reported that 84 percent of those who successfully complete the program have no
new convictions within one year, and 75 percent have no new convictions within
two years. Officials say that 280 people have completed the program in its six
years of operation.

"It seems to me that the number of people that are succeeding in Drug Court and
not coming back into the system is far better than other programs," said Deputy
District Attorney Bruce Silva, the prosecutor assigned to the program in North

Silva's responsibilities include screening cases to see who qualifies for Drug
Court. Defendants are ineligible if they have a history of violence or prior
convictions under the state's "three strikes" law, or face charges of selling
or manufacturing drugs. Most participants are charged with possessing drugs or
transporting small amounts of drugs for their personal use.

After Silva determines whether someone is eligible, officials at Mental Health
System, Inc., which contracts with the county to provide treatment services,
also screens defendants to see if they are suitable for the treatment services
Drug Court provides.

The nonviolent criminal defendants who qualify for the program must complete 12
months of treatment and six months of "aftercare," said Connie Hall, the
program secretary at the North County Center for Change, the part of Mental
Health System, Inc. that provides Drug Court treatment in North County.

The program's requirements include that clients must find a job, have "clean
and sober" housing, attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
meetings, and have a sponsor, Hall said.

Clients in the program are subject to random drug tests at any time, seven days
a week. Failing to show up for a test or to be on time for a test can result in
a weekend in jail for the offender, Hall said. Repeated failure to comply with
the program's requirements can result in defendants being terminated from the
program and possibly sent to jail.

"It was just like a whip," McCoy said of the jail time for missed tests. "You
have to be responsible. You have to be on time."

McCoy said that after 25 years of using drugs -- starting with alcohol and
marijuana in high school and moving on to cocaine and methamphetamine -- he
needed the structure provided by Drug Court that other programs lacked.

McCoy is not alone. While some defendants can succeed in less strict programs
available under the law, others need more structure, said Deputy Public
Defender Terri Peters, the defense attorney assigned to the Drug Court in North

"The good thing about Drug Court is not only is it highly effective, it gives
people coping mechanisms they can use later in life," Peters said. "They teach
you coping mechanisms so when stress comes up you learn to cope and not use

Although the program helped McCoy and others, he emphasized that drug addicts
must want to get help from the program for it to work.

As for the future, McCoy is looking ahead, "one day at a time."

"I can't see tomorrow, but I have today, and I know what I have to do today to
stay clean and sober," he said.
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