Those with substance abuse problems who find themselves on the wrong side of the law might have success with drug court, if they work hard.

Circuit Judge Charles "Ed" Clawson oversees the drug court in the 20th Judicial District, where offenders who want help with their drug or alcohol problem are given a chance to prove they can change.

Clawson said, "People who come into the criminal justice system with a chemical or alcohol problem, it may not necessarily be a drug charge. It may be a theft charge; it may be a forgery. Because generally speaking, people don’t steal televisions to watch a ballgame; they steal them to buy drugs."

To get into the program, offenders must live in Faulkner County, have no history of violence, and agree to comply with the rules of drug court.

"They have to be interested in the program and want to do it, because it’s not easy," Clawson said. "They’re screened by the staff, and if the prosecuting attorney approves them, they are taken into the program."

The program has four phases. In the first phase, participants go through intensive counseling, meeting with their probation officer and outside groups like AA. They have random drug tests frequently. If they do well, they graduate to the second phase. It takes about 16 to 18 months, if all goes well, to work through all four phases, Clawson said. For most of them it takes 24 months, he added.

"They come to my court every two weeks. I go over with them how they’re doing — do they go to all their meetings, are their drug screens clean. Basically I monitor them. If there’s a problem I deal with it. A minor problem may be community service. A major problem like a dirty drug screen may involve jail time. If there’s a problem, there are beds available in (the Arkansas Department of Community Correction), short term. If they do things I can’t deal with, we can send them to the regional facility for up to a year, and we have done that a few times.

"Relapse is part of recovery. It’s just going to happen. Some of them need more intensive treatment. The Regional Correctional Facility provides a long-term lockdown facility for drug treatment. It helps some of them. The idea is you don’t have to send them to the penitentiary. If the problem is severe and you don’t want to give up on them, we look at RCF as a possible solution."

Each time a drug court participant completes a phase, they are recognized for their accomplishment.

"We give them a card and recognize that achievement in court," Clawson said. "When they graduate we put them on unsupervised probation. After another six months if they’re clean, we’ll seal the record."

He said it would be better if he had more time to devote to drug court and he could see the participants every week instead of every two weeks. It would also be good if Faulkner County had some treatment facilities available for detox, he said.

"If we had some beds available locally for the ones in greatest need where we could put them for 30 to 60 days to dry them out — right now they’re drying out in jail awaiting disposition of their case. Some of them are not dry and they’re out on bond."

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by email at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)