For 10 years, Frisco resident Michael Anderson was in and out of jail, prison and various correctional programs due to substance abuse.
It was a time when he said he simply, “used to fake it to make it.”
Then, two years ago, Anderson was recruited into the Summit County Drug Court program, an alternative judicial process for habitual drug and alcohol offenders that uses a phased, multi-pronged approach focusing on addressing addiction and reducing recidivism. For Anderson, it was a two-year road involving therapy, frequent drug and alcohol screenings and intensive supervision by the courts.
Today, he is clean and sober, the married father of a baby girl, a new homeowner and the local drug court’s fourth successful graduate.
“I am so proud of Michael and all that he has accomplished,” Judge Karen Romeo, who presides over the program, stated in a recent release. “I have no doubt he will achieve all of his dreams and will continue to be a wonderful son, husband, father and community member. He has many gifts to give, and by turning his life around, he not only changed his life but he will positively enhance many more.”
Judicial administrators and the community celebrated Anderson’s completion of the program Friday.
The drug court model is one used all over the country with reported success.
A 2010 analysis published in the Chapman Journal of Scientific Justice indicated the programs can save the criminal justice system between $2 and $27 for every dollar invested by reducing participants’ future re-arrests, law enforcement contacts, court hearings, use of jail or prison facilities and other costs associated with re-offending.
But locally, not everyone in the judicial system is sold on the drug court model.
New District Attorney Bruce Brown has expressed skepticism of the value of the program, which he said is unchanged by its latest success.
“It’s not any one success or failure that, for the community, should determine whether or not drug court is important to keep within our rehabilitation tools,” Brown said. “These are very expensive programs and the question is part of what should be, in my opinion, a cost-benefit analysis.”
There are currently three drug courts operating within the Fifth Judicial District.
The program in Summit County was initiated and strongly supported by Brown’s predecessor, former DA Mark Hurlbert.
The 18- to 24-month program walks participants through four phases. Phase one is simply reaching and sustaining sobriety. The second phase is the longest and combines intensive treatment with random drug and alcohol tests and regular court dates when participants and the drug court team meet to track the participants’ progress.
Phase three and four are designed to help participants rejoin their community by getting jobs, finding stable housing arrangements and completing a community service project.
Part of the program is individual support and reinforcement. The drug court team, from lawyers to therapists to Judge Romeo herself, cheer for and reward the participants’ successes, and the court imposes sanctions when participants fail a drug test or start missing appointments.
Now approximately 3 years old, Summit County’s drug court can support a handful of participants, who are selected based on a specific set of criteria.
Individuals must be local residents charged with a crime, but violent or sex offenders or people who sell drugs for profit are not eligible. Participants have to have had a history of substance abuse at the root of their run-ins with the law. And, after meeting all the criteria, potential drug court participants also undergo an extensive mental health and substance abuse evaluation to determine whether the program is a good match for them.
For Anderson, court officials say the program has been life changing, allowing him to get sober and rebuild relationships with his family.
As part of his graduation requirement to complete a community project, he spearheaded a work day at the Summit County Animal Shelter. Along with a group of volunteers, he replaced the gravel in the outdoor kennels, and remembered how he’d worked at the same facility as an inmate during a past jail sentence.
“Michael has truly come full circle,” court officials stated in a press release announcing his graduation from the drug court program.