Drug court to receive state certification
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
The local drug court program was recognized of late by the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Tennessee Attorney General’s Office.
“Tennessee is starting a certification program for drug courts. Of the 40-plus programs statewide, only 10 were asked to submit paperwork. Ours was one of the 10,” said Dr. Deborah Gibson of Dresden.
“The certification papers were due in Nashville by May 7.”
Ms. Gibson is a volunteer consultant to the 27th Judicial District drug court program. The district is comprised of Obion and Weakley counties. Circuit Judge Bill Acree Jr. presides over the program, assisted by Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore.
Ms. Gibson, a professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Martin, has been a UTM faculty member since 1994. “I teach a substance abuse class. It’s always been an interest of mine, so I volunteered to work for the program,” she said.
Only the oldest drug court programs in the state were asked to submit certification papers.
“In 2010, those programs not certified by the state will not be eligible for state funds. So certification is very important,” she said. “The money that comes from the state (now) is the result of the 2003 Drug Court Treatment Act. We get about $50,000 a year from it now. But we would no longer get it if we are not certified.”
Ms. Gibson recently completed a study of the drug court program that began in the 27th Judicial District in December 2002. “Our program is doing great,” she said. “I looked at where we’ve been the last five years. We are doing a good job of bringing people into the program. Our graduation rate and retention rate are equal to or greater than the average across the state.”
The report, dated March 28, includes the following statistics:
• 275 applications for admittance to the program were received from non-violent offenders; 148 were approved.
• Of the 148 applicants who were approved, 106 (72 percent) were male, and 42 (28 percent) were female; 111 (74 percent) were white, 36 (24 percent) were black; and one was Hispanic.
• Sixty-five percent of the participants live in Obion County, 35 percent in Weakley County.
• Average time for program completion is 14 months.
• Average time spent in the program among those who were terminated prior to graduation is eight months.
• Sixty-one participants have graduated. Graduation rate: 51 percent.
• Addiction to drugs is a serious, chronic and relapsing health problem for both women and men. Among women, drug abuse may progress differently and may require different treatment approaches.
• Up to 70 percent of drug abuse women report histories of physical and sexual abuse. Women who use drugs have low self-esteem and little self-confidence and may feel powerless. Many women report their drug-using male sex partners initiated them into drug abuse. Research indicates drug-dependent women have great difficulty abstaining from drugs when the lifestyle of their male partner is one that supports drug use.
• Graduation rate for females in the 27th Judicial District drug court program is 53 percent; for males, it’s 50 percent.
• Overall retention rate is 60 percent.
• Overall recidivism rate (those picking up a new charge while in the program) is 25 percent; 37 of the 148 individuals admitted to the program picked up a new charge (misdemeanor or felony) while in the program.
• Post graduation rate of recidivism — picking up a new charge after graduation — is 23 percent. Thirteen of the 14 who picked up a new charge did so within 18 months of graduation.
• A total of 7,320 drug screens have been administered since the program began; 161 tested positive.
• Methamphetamine was ranked as the No. 1 drug causing problems in West Tennessee, followed by prescription drugs, opiates, alcohol, cocaine and marijuana.
Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said methamphetamine — or “meth” — is gradually being replaced as the drug of choice.
“Oxycontin, Hydrocodone and other pharmaceuticals are about to take over as No. 1. We are getting more and more people who are prescription drug abusers,” he said.
And meth labs that once thrived but were shut down by a law enforcement crackdown are back on the scene. “People who were convicted and sent to prison the last four or five years are out now. They will go right back to making meth,” Vastbinder said.
They will be looking for anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in the witches’ brew required to make homemade meth. “Anhydrous is easily accessible now because liquid fertilizer is so expensive for farmers,” he said. “Most farmers are using anhydrous when planting corn. The small tanks that meth cookers called ‘nurse tanks’ are left in the fields where they’re sitting ducks.
“The farmers’ co-op over in Palmersville is getting hit just about every night, it’s such a rural area over there. We arrested 53 people trying to steal anhydrous ammonia in just one spring in Mason Hall. I’d say those 53 people represent only a third of the thieves.
“Homemade labs are on the increase. On the secondary level, there’s a much larger influx of meth coming from Mexico. It’s called ‘Ice,’ and it’s a purer form of meth. There’s been numerous arrests in Obion and Weakley counties of Hispanics moving large quantities of Ice. Out of the 40-plus federal prisoners we are housing now, probably 60 percent — and that’s a conservative figure — are meth-related, trafficking in meth.
Published in The Messenger 5.12.08