Judges Talk About New Drug Court Set To Begin This Fall PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 September 2017 10:04
Superior Court Judges Kristina Cook Graham and Don Thompson spoke to the Summerville-Trion Rotary Club and the Optimist Club about the new drug court that will be implemented in superior court this fall. Also at the meeting was Drug Court Coordinator Gretchen Neal.
“We’re excited about the new drug court,” Judge Graham said.
Thompson will be the presiding judge of the drug court and Judge Graham will step in if Thompson has to recuse himself from a case.
“Gretchen Neal, our coordinator, is the glue that will hold us all together,” Judge Graham said.
Judge Graham said that no one would have to ask why there is a need for a Drug Court and there is probably no person in the room that does not have a family member or some person they have a personal relationship with that has an addiction.
“It has been bad and it is getting worse,” she added. “We no longer just have alcohol, marijuana and stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine. We have the designer drugs. We have the man-made drugs. We have the opioids, heroin and fentanyl.”
The opioid crisis is not make believe, it is consuming our country, Judge Graham added. Basically it is the result of good, decent people getting prescription medications for an injury and become addicted to the opioid and then getting heroin cheaper on the street.
“When I was growing up, I never knew someone that was on heroin and I thought that heroin was a dirty, nasty drug in the streets and the ghettoes in New York,” Judge Graham continued. 
She told about the new fears of drugs that are becoming more prevalent. They were spice, a synthetic marijuana; kentamine, a vet tranquilizer that you can be addicted to by using one time; krokodil, which rots skin and flakka which many put into gummy bears.
“There was a time in this country that we thought that people that were addicted had a weakness but through research we now know that is not true,” Judge Graham said. 
Addiction comes from the Latin word that means “enslaved” or “bound to.” It is a chronic disease that actually changes your brain structure and function.
“It is not just alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, it could be behavior as well,” Judge Graham explained. “You have people addicted to pornography, gambling, exercise, sex and cell phones.
What happens is our brain registers all pleasure the same way – when great pleasure is felt a huge amount of dopamine is released in our brain and that is a powerful neurotransmitter that raises this level of good feeling, she said.
“It is very similar to the same chemical release that is released in the flight or fight syndrome, because God made our brain so we could survive and function,” Judge Graham said.
When you get involved with addiction the brain requires more and more product.
The goals for the drug court are simple, we want to stop the addiction process,” she told the club members.
“We want to save lives, we want to restore families and we want to restore these people to be successful, productive citizens,” Judge Graham said. “Who work and take care of their children and contribute to society.”
She added that they want to prevent criminal behavior.
“Addiction is a criminogenic behavior,” she added.
The drug court wants to prevent recidivism. Most criminal offenders with addictions re-offend within three years, despite prison, boot camp, RSAT, detention centers. The recidivism rate is extremely high. In Georgia there is a 70 percent recidivism rate for drug offenders with regular DOC approaches
“So what we have been doing is not working,” Judge Graham added.
In Georgia we have a significant drop in recidivism with good quality Drug Court intervention.
“It can drop to 20 percent – two out of 10 re-offend,” she explained. “That is a huge accomplishment if we can get there and it is worth it. There have been Drug Courts in Georgia for 20 years. Evidence based practices and treatment work and substantially reduce costs to the state.
“The 70 percent number or recidivism we are talking about is just not acceptable,” Judge Thompson said. 
We are in the implementation of our Drug Court and our Accountability Court and we are going to add to it, we are talking about adding a Mental Health Court to deal with issues of mental illness that plays into criminal behavior as well, Judge Thompson explained.
“Across the state, there will be Accountability Courts in every circuit,” he said. “I am glad to see that because if we can accomplish that 50 percent and see only two out of 10 drop of people that come back through our system we have made a huge step forward as far as county jail expense and as far as state expense on prisons and also just in the lives of people, making them productive workers, better fathers, better mothers so they can have good lives with their children and hopefully breaking the cycle of addiction.”
He added that what they see, especially in rural areas is generational abuse not just one isolated person that is hooked on methamphetamine.
“A lot of these people never had a chance to begin with, they grew up in a cycle that continues,” Judge Thompson said. “If we can start here and break that cycle and hopefully over the next generation we can see the numbers go way down and improve the lives for our kids.”
He said that Accountability Court is what the name implies – holding people accountable for their conduct and is the process that will get this done, Thompson added.
He went on to explain how the phases of the court will work.

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