story and photos by Ben Pollock
special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE – Washington/Madison County Drug Treatment and Diversion Court received a $975,000 federal grant to be paid over the next three years.
The state's U.S. Senators and 3rd District Congressman Monday (Oct. 22) each attended the press conference Monday (Oct. 22) at Washington County's Historic Courthouse. G. Chadd Mason, who about 18 months ago succeeded Mary Ann Gunn as judge of drug court (formally the 4th Division Circuit Court of Arkansas' 4th Judicial District), hosted the event.
The grant, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will be dispersed over three years, or $325,000 annually.
Mason said, "The grant targets the defendants that are placed in our program, thereby requiring their compliance with the justice system, compensation to victims, paying for treatment costs, paying their way, so to speak. That's an important part of what we do is encouraging and requiring that accountability."
"This grant will allow us to further our efforts in providing resources and effective tools for these target defendants, so that they can make changes in their lives that can address the issues that ... caused them to engage in criminality in the first place," he said.
Kara Moore, CEO of Ozark Recovery Center Inc., wrote the more than 300-page funding proposal, Mason said.
The grant allows the court to increase its capacity by 33%, she said, and to use new evidence-based treatments, increasing cost-effectiveness.
"We consider employment to be a key to recovery," Moore said, and Mason agreed.
Mason thanked John Tyson, chairman of Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc., as a major corporate sponsor of the drug court's vocational program by providing career opportunities. "It's a huge thing to have Tyson Foods here to step up to the plate," Mason said.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' department of family and preventive medicine in Little Rock has a team in Fayetteville to evaluate how the grant is used.
"We were able to take time on the front end [of applying for the grant] and evaluate what we wanted to track," said Isis Martel, a UAMS research associate heading the evaluation.
The UAMS evaluation team "will track each and every client for the next three years ... first with a full-battery assessment [then] we will follow up with those clients every few months, while the client is still in the program."
Martel noted one complexity: "Washington and Madison counties are very different, in the subject of 'rurality.’”
Each county has different facilities. Money from the grant will be used to track these services, which will "help all of our partners," referring to the agencies used by defendants for counseling, education, job placement and so forth.
Afterward, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., initially was brief: "Drug courts work." He elaborated, saying, "You can look at the numbers and see a return on investment. This court in particular is a model for similar courts in the state because it's organized into channeling [clients] into the different facilities that are available in Washington and Madison counties. We have not had enough of that."
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., noted this program is an exception to his usual concerns over government spending.
"I'm never opposed to any federal outlay that is quantifiable, showing a return on investment," Womack said. "Regarding this program in particular, I am a believer, both in general and because I personally have seen the effects of substance of substance abuse."
Without these drug courts, Womack said, "treating drug abuse and all of its related costs if the person continues on that road is too expensive for the country. It is not sustainable."
He also appreciates "the efficiency of investing in treatment and rehabilitation on the front end, rather than later. This will save both on the society end and closer to home. And it's not just the one person but it's the family and others involved who are close to them. They sustain the costs in money and in heartache. Drug court is that intervention."
The two-county drug court is one of 39 drug (including alcohol-related offenses) courts in Arkansas and the only one that is a pre-adjudication program, meaning charges against defendants are dropped upon successful completion of the program that the court tailors for the person.
Of the approximately 2,917 drug rehabilitation courts across the United States, Washington/Madison County is one of only 12 to receive this HHS grant, according to a news release. Its drug court serves more than 150 participants a year, and has worked with nearly 1,500 people since it was begun in 1999.