Cochise County juvenile drug court program going strong

 

 

Juvenile drug courts, once employed statewide to give youthful offenders a second chance, are now few and far between. Cochise County Superior Court is one of the few exceptions.

According to azcourts.gov, out of the 11 county courts in Southern Arizona, less than half have juvenile drug court programs.

“Cochise County has decided that we want to stay in the game. We want to provide this service to our community,” said Kris Sullivan, drug court program manager for the Cochise County Juvenile Drug Court Program.

The program began in 1999, under the supervision of Judge Charles Irwin and Judge James Conlogue, probation supervisor Duane Barrow and Sullivan as the drug court manager. Today the presiding juvenile court judge is Karl D. Elledge, while both Barrow and Sullivan still hold their original positions.

“Drug court is a collaborative effort, so with the different agencies we put together the treatment and the different components which the drug court requires, and built our team from there,” Sullivan said. In July 2000, the program had screened and accepted their first participant as well as held its first drug court, according to Sullivan. Today, there around 10 participants at both the Sierra Vista location and the Bisbee/Douglass location, with two to three participants waiting to be accepted.

The one year program operates with three main goals in mind, according to Sullivan. These goals include sobriety, reduction of delinquency and education. Every part of the program works to promote these goals for participants, starting from the moment they enter into the program.

Participants move through the program in phases. The first phase focuses mainly on learning the program, the second phase on rejoining the community in a positive way and the third phase on practicing and preparing for what life will be like after. “The phases are really just stepping stones for the kids,” Sullivan said.

Participants move through the program with the help of the drug court team, which consists of the drug court judge, probation officers, treatment providers, law enforcement officers, program manager and surveillance officers. Families of participants also act as a support system.

Support from a parent, relative or the family unit as a whole is one of the most important parts of success within the program. “It is crucial. Our kids that tend to do well have families who continue setting boundaries and expectations,” Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, since its inception the program has seen 105 participants graduate. The current success rate of the program is one out of every three kids. This success rate is based on how many participants complete each phase of the program and ultimately graduate.

Even if a participant does decide to leave the program, the team still does all they can to support that child and their family. “We still have really strong connections with people who, for whatever reason, have left us. Our philosophy is that once you are a member of the drug court family, you are always a member of the drug court family,” Sullivan said.

Within the second phase, participants come up with an idea for a community service project. Participants can do their project on anything they can think of, “they are only limited by their own creativity,” Sullivan said.

In phase three, participants bring their ideas to life. According to Sullivan, past service projects have included creating anti-drug PSAs, building greenhouses for churches, working with veterans, adopting an elderly person who is in a home, as well as helping hungry youth. Some participants also chose to speak publicly, telling their story to other young people.

Sullivan said the program is currently transitioning from a phase based program to an evidence based program. Evidence based programs are based upon research and studies that look at what treatment models are the most effective in dealing with juvenile drug addiction.  The new evidence based program will follow guidelines outlined by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Planning and Prevention, allowing the program to take on more participants.

Currently, the program is only allowed to accept participants who are high risk and high need with no prior felony record. The evidence program will equip the current drug court team with the tools necessary to take on more kids including drug dealers, according to Sullivan. With this program, “we’ve opened our nets,” Sullivan said. The team is currently waiting on the Department of Justice, but hopes to be implementing the new program sometime in 2018.

Tori Cutcher is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at vac@email.arizona.edu.

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