Pubdate: 6/4/98 Source: Oklahoman, The (OK) Contact: http://www.oklahoman.com/?ed-writeus Website: http://www.oklahoman.com/ Author: Barbara Allen ZERO TOLERANCE World Staff photo by Geoff Kreieger Judge touts high success rate of Tulsa Drug Court Zero is a pretty big number in Tulsa Drug Court. That's how many of the 59 people who have graduated from the court-supervised rehabilitation program have been rearrested on drug charges. Compare that, proponents say, with the number of people picked up on drug-related charges who don't go through Drug Court: 60 percent to 70 percent of them become repeat offenders, officials said. Tulsa Drug Court, established in May 1996 and the first in the state, works in phases and requires intensive, time-consuming therapy sessions and 12-step program involvement. "It requires (participants') absolute commitment and concentration," said Special District Judge Linda Morrissey, the Drug Court judge and surrogate mother to the drug offenders who make their way into her courtroom. She and other Drug Court officials gath ered Tuesday in the Tulsa County Courthouse to celebrate National Drug Court Week, and the judge called a sample docket to demonstrate what goes on in Drug Court. She greeted real offenders with a smile, asked how they were doing and evaluated their performance according to 12-step program and therapy session attendance. They heard her say she was proud of them and that they were performing well. She encouraged them to "keep up the good work." She didn't act like a principal behind a desk, stern and unsmiling to unruly students. And all of the offenders seemed glad to see her, eager to please and proud of their progress. The gathering also included a graduation ceremony for Drug Court's five most-recent graduates, who bashfully accepted their diplomas while those responsible for the program's inception beamed with pride. Most of Tuesday's graduates went to Drug Court on a variety of offenses, from possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia to cocaine. Most had been in the program for at least a year, and Morrissey reminded them of how far they had come. She said participants had to meet three qualifications before they could be allowed into Drug Court: they must have a problem, need treatment and, most importantly, want to be treated, she said. "Unless they can stand before me and say boldly and with conviction `Yes' to those three things, they don't come in," she said. Those eligible are nonviolent, first-time offenders who are arrested on drug complaints. Currently, 230 participants are in the program. They are required to pass drug tests, and newcomers spend 15 hours a week in group therapy and four to five hours in 12-step programs. They are required to come to court once a week. As participants progress, they are required to commit fewer hours until they achieve sufficient success to graduate from the program. Morrissey said the average participant spends a year and three months in the program. Sixteen participants in the history of the program have been terminated for noncompliance, and two have died in accidents not related to drug use. A few more men than women are in the program, and participants range in age from 18 to 65. The juvenile Drug Court handles offenders who are younger than 18. For Morrissey, the need for more funding for Drug Court is clear. In Oklahoma, 23.6 percent of all prisoners are incarcerated on drug-related charges -- the largest percentage of any offense. She said the program needs more support and more dollars. She said drug courts in Florida have been around for 10 years and have had great success. Studies there show that the drug courts have drastically cut the recidivism rate for drug offenders, she said. Those who go to prison have a 50 percent recidivism rate, while those who are treated through Drug Court face future drug-related charges at a rate of only 5 percent to 20 percent. Morrissey is quick to point out that eventually the Tulsa program's zero recidivism level will falter, but she thinks the program's numbers will still be impressive. "These people have their underlying addictions addressed, and they come out productive members of society," she said. Barbara Allen can be reached at 581-8447. - --- Checked-by: "Rolf Ernst"