Over the past 17 years, the Franklin County Treatment Court has had nearly 400 graduates and has touched the lives of hundreds more.
Last week, the court held its most recent ceremony honoring three graduates who completed the intensive 18-month program.
Treatment Court Administrator Beth Billington, who has been with the program from almost the very beginning, said the recent graduates did not have an easy road.
Billington explained the treatment court is a very intensive, court supervised program intended to give offenders the tools they need to be successful throughout their lives.
“The people in the program usually have a substance use disorder,” Billington said. “This is actually the most strict probation program there is. They have frequent meetings with their probation officers, drug tests, and meet with the judge.”
Referrals to the program come from probation officers, the prosecuting attorneys and judges.
“We only had three graduates this time,” she said. “We normally have about five. We’ve had 375 graduates since 2000.”
The genesis of the drug court was in 1999 and the DWI court was added in 2009.
Billington explained out of every 100 people referred to the program, only about half take the steps to participate and of those only 35 actually make it into the program.
“Of those, we have a 60 percent graduation rate,” she said. “There is about a 10 percent recidivism rate.”
The treatment court does not have any way of monitoring substance abuse after graduation unless the person commits another crime.
Billington said working in the drug court can sometimes be tough, but that makes the success stories even better.
“The best part of the job is watching people change,” she said. “Things we take for granted in every day normal life like having a job and being with our families.”
Patience, Billington says, is a key to working with those with a substance use disorder.
“You have to remember their drug chemistry has changed,” she said. “It may take them two or three times of getting it wrong before they realize how to get it right.”
When the drug court was first formed, Franklin County was in the grips of a methamphetamine epidemic, which presented different treatment challenges than other drugs.
The door closing on meth in recent years has opened the door for other drugs and how the drug court responds.
“Prescription opiates or heroin make up 90 percent of our cases now,” Billington said. “And we are seeing a lot of younger people. These factors are definitely more challenging to work with.”
The state of Missouri has more regional drug courts and sees more offenders per capita than any other state.
The majority of funding comes from the state.
The treatment court program accepts offenders of just about every crime except for murder or sex-related offenses.
It is not a substitute for jail or prison time and many participants are required to serve shock time as well.