A local courtroom is probably not the kind of place the average person associates with life-changing moments of celebration, applause and tears of joy. But you might be surprised to learn that this is precisely what has been happening for decades right here in St. Louis.
This month, the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court Treatment Courts Program celebrates its 25th anniversary. Founded on April 7, 1997, it is one of the oldest treatment court programs in the state and was recently honored by the Missouri Association of Treatment Court Professionals for years of distinguished service, commitment to excellence and many other achievements. None of this would have been possible without the contributions and leadership over the years of various judges and commissioners, including James R. Dowd, James Sullivan, Michael Noble, Barbara Peebles and Elizabeth Hogan.
Today, the City Treatment Court program is overseen by the two of us, Rochelle Woodiest and Matt Melton who, as Commissioners, lead a multidisciplinary team of court professionals who work collaboratively with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, social workers, case managers, probation officers, service providers and other subject matter experts. The mission is one that closely resembles the very premise of why treatment court programs began popping up across the country over 30 years ago.
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These are innovative, specialized court cases designed for non-violent adult offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with ongoing child protection cases who have demonstrated a history of mental health and/or addiction issues. to drugs and alcohol and related crime. Instead of continually punishing those people trapped in the unforgiving grip of addiction or mental illness, why not leverage available resources to provide them with evidence-based treatment and an opportunity to be a productive member of the community? society ?
This is exactly what our Treatment Court has done for hundreds, if not thousands, of our fellow citizens since its inception. Through a holistic approach, we divert these individuals from the traditional (and costly) incarceration model of the criminal justice system by providing intense judicial oversight, supervision and accountability, and connecting them to tools and support to rebuild their lives and achieve successful recovery. .
Services include mental health treatment, educational and job training, housing support, medical referrals and life skills training – all while staying completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol and adhering to a plan rigorous, court-ordered and personalized treatment.
In other words, we address the root cause of actions and behaviors with compassion and empathy to save lives, reunite families and make our community safer.
For example, treatment court clients may include a veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Or a single mother with a substance abuse disorder who turned to shoplifting to support her addiction. Or a high school dropout and drug addict who is considering years in prison for repeat offenses who, through treatment court, is able to obtain a GED and land a full-time job with no additional criminal history.
These are just a few of the countless personal stories that show the power of potential and the success of treatment court programs, like ours in St. Louis, and their graduates. In fact, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, treatment court is the most successful intervention in our country’s history to get people with addictions or mental health issues out of the criminal justice system and towards richer, fuller and more stable lives. . And in doing so, they can earn a living, pay taxes, support their families, further their education, find housing, and reduce the need for foster care while allowing law enforcement to focus on violent criminals. Some will even have their criminal cases thrown out altogether. It benefits everyone.
And in the face of an unrelenting opioid epidemic and ongoing public safety challenges, it further proves that the Treatment Court is and must continue to be part of the solution for St. Louis and its most high-risk residents. risk and the most vulnerable. While they may not be able to go back and make a fresh start, resources and services exist to get them started on a new path now.
Rochelle Woodiest and Matt Melton are commissioners of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court who run the Treatment Courts Program.