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(LETTER) Treatment courts save lives and strengthen communities

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Dear Gillette,

May is National Treatment Court Month. Treatment courts represent an innovative, evolving approach to reducing crime. This year’s National Treatment Court Month recognizes the economic and societal benefits of these programs.

For more than 20 years, Treatment Courts in Campbell County have been at the forefront of our state’s efforts to transform the way our justice system responds to individuals afflicted with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Understand up front these courts are not “touchy-feely,” so-called “hug-a-thug” constructs. Rather, they are hands-on, intense and challenging programs combining elements of supervised probation overseen by experienced case managers with intensive outpatient treatment proctored by licensed professionals.

Here in Campbell County, our experience shows Treatment Courts to be a cost-efficient alternative to the traditional, revolving-door system of justice characterized by the commission of a crime, conviction, incarceration and/or probation, release, and the commission of additional crimes. Anyone can sit in jail and do nothing for months or years, and unfortunately a lot of people choose to do just that.

Fortunately, in Campbell County, we have an alternative, and we have seen more than 300 men and women choose to learn to cope with addiction and mental illness in appropriate, healthy ways and return to the community as productive, sober citizens. By holding defendants accountable for their actions and providing them with treatment and supervision, our Treatment Courts provide the support necessary to facilitate defendants’ efforts to change their lives.

Recently, Campbell County was selected to pilot a Diversion Court program for the State of Wyoming. This Court is designed to assist those who — but for their mental illness — would likely not be involved in the criminal justice system. Our goal is to adapt proven techniques from our Felony and Misdemeanor Treatment Courts and apply them in a manner designed to assist defendants afflicted with mental illness to cope with their conditions and to modify their behaviors to enable them to progress and flourish as healthy, productive citizens. Early results are favorable, and we believe the future is promising. Best of all, we are leveraging existing assets to operate this pilot program — thereby limiting additional costs to local taxpayers.

While it is empirically indisputable that Treatment Courts reduce crime, our experience is that these programs also result in improved outcomes in the areas of education, employment, housing, financial stability, and family reunification. In addition, these courts help families, friends, employers, and others find hope, healing, and recovery. We facilitate getting moms and dads back home and attending school functions; we help employees get back on the job to carry out their functions, and we encourage participants to return to living normal lives following years of chaotic survival.

It has been my great honor to serve as the Chair of Campbell County’s Adult Treatment and Diversion Courts Board of Directors since 2010. In that position, I have seen first-hand the difference Treatment Courts have made in the lives of our participants and their families, and I could regale readers with success stories for hours.

In lieu of that, I will note that as a taxpayer, I appreciate the short- and long-term savings that Treatment Courts provide, for instead of sitting in jail and being provided meals and a bed while others attend to their responsibilities, our participants and graduates work, own businesses and pay employment and federal taxes; they buy homes and pay property taxes; they buy cars and other personal items and pay sales taxes; they use their insurance to cover the cost of their family’s medical care; and they pay for their children’s books, lunches and school supplies.

In fact, here in Campbell County our participants invest in themselves: because our local employers have been so supportive of our programs, our participants are able to work while in the program and are required to pay a substantial percentage of their treatment costs. And perhaps best of all, because success begets success many of our graduates gratefully “pay it forward” by serving as employers, mentors, friends, sponsors and other positive role models for current Treatment Court participants.

Our programs not only reduce crime, but they add economic and social benefits to our community at minimal — I would argue zero — net cost. All residents of Campbell County should be proud of our community’s leadership in the implementation and expansion of these problem-solving courts.

Paul S. Phillips
Circuit Court Judge, Sixth Judicial District, Campbell County and
Chair, Campbell County Adult Treatment and Diversion Courts Board of Directors

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