Pubdate: Sun, 22 Aug 2004
Source: Times and Democrat, The (SC)
Copyright: 2004, The Times and Democrat
Author: Richard Walker, T&D Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


A Charleston County woman was facing seven years in prison for forgery and 
drug possession. She was addicted to cocaine; every time she left her home, 
her son asked if she was coming back.

After a little more than a year, the woman was among the first graduating 
class of Charleston County's drug court, which was started in July 1999.

"Drug court saved my life," the 31-year-old woman said. "I spent 18 years 
of my life doing the wrong thing. Now I'm on the right path."

And that same type of drug court is coming to Orangeburg County, 1st 
Circuit Solicitor Robby Robbins said.

"I have begun the planning phase of the drug court," Robbins said. "Our 
goal is to have it up and running early next year."

The special court is funded by state legislation that has tacked on a $100 
surcharge for all General Sessions court fines and forfeitures stemming 
from drug-related charges, Robbins said.

Under the program, prosecutors identify non-violent offenders with drug 
problems who might respond to the program. They face charges such as 
possession of drugs or crimes such as breach of trust, forgery or fraud, 
Robbins said.

"The folks we're looking at will be the non-violent offenders with offenses 
ranging anywhere from simple possession of narcotic drugs to trespassing, 
breaking and entering automobiles, shoplifting, forgery," Robbins said. 
"What we're seeing is a regular number of your shoplifters stealing goods 
to barter for drugs, selling the goods to buy drugs. People are forging 
checks and writing bad checks to get money to buy drugs."

The basic premise of the court is rather than send someone to jail or place 
them on probation for a possession of narcotics charge, the court will 
mandate the defendant to receive real medical treatment from health care 
professionals, Robbins said.

"It's an intervention program where they are required to get treatment," 
Robbins said. "And the court keeps tabs on what they're doing."

Should someone fail to attend treatment sessions or fall back into more 
drug use, they're pulled from the program and their case is sent back to 
General Sessions or magistrate's court.

As of Aug. 9, a little more than $33,000 had been earmarked for the 1st 

"There's about a 78 percent recidivism of people who are on drugs that 
don't get help," Robbins said. "The data is in, and the legislature has 
been given that data and agreed to help us."

South Carolina's larger cities including Greenville, Columbia and 
Charleston have already received funding for drug courts, Robbins said. But 
the monies for mid-level communities like Orangeburg are just now becoming 
sufficient to fancy the reality of a such a court here, Robbins said.

Robbins said the Orangeburg County program is currently still in its 
planning stage as the solicitor's office studies other programs around the 
state to adapt a system best suited for the county.

Most notable of concerns, Robbins said, is determining what local 
facilities to use, and whether a circuit court judge or a magistrate would 
be more appropriate for the court.

"The next phase will be to sit down with the leaders in the community, law 
enforcement, legislators, the defense bar and the judges to determine what 
is going to work best," Robbins said. "After we sit down, we'll be working 
on these issues to determine the best way to get it done."

In the meantime, Robbins says the problems will be resolved, and with the 
current $33,000 in hand, the drug court could open its doors for business 
within the first few months of 2005.

"It certainly ought to get us off the ground and running," Robbins said. 
"Hopefully, it will continue to come in and give us the funds we need."

With such a court, relief should be felt not only within the law 
enforcement and judicial community, but the business arena as well. And 
that's not to mention the help the individuals themselves receive through 
the program.

"If we can get them some help, and turn them around, then I think it will 
be a win-win situation for everybody," Robbins said.
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