Pubdate: 6/4/98
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Author: Barbara Allen


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

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

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

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

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.

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Checked-by: "Rolf Ernst"