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Drug Treatment Court: Case Managing Recovery

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Dressed in a white chef's uniform, culinary student Georgia Fox prepares a new dish. As she flips the sautéed shrimp in the heavy pan, she discovers that it's all done with the wrist, using a rhythm and feel that at first don't come easily. Then Georgia remembers how it was before, when nothing came easily, and her uniform was a different color.

Across town, plumber Michael Lathe makes another house call. The repair is routine, just replace the pipe joint, check for leaks, clean up and go on to the next job. Michael is used to hard work and doesn't mind getting down on his knees to get the job done right. But every morning for the past year, Michael has been getting down on his knees for another reason.

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Two very different stories, two very different backgrounds, but with one common thread . . . addiction.

GEORGIA FOX: I was out of control ...

I wasn't there for my kids. Let the gas go, the lights turned off. I stole from my children. Moms don't do that.

When I hit that rock bottom I had gone from prostitution to boosting. Got busted in Dillards for a $50 pair of pants.

MICHEAL LATHE: Naturally started off with a pint, lead up to a fifth. And right before I went to jail I was drinking three quarters of a half-gallon of liquor a day.

GEORGIA FOX: The truth was that I was an addict, still wanting to do it my way. You know what I'm saying, and didn't realize that my way got me where I was at.

MICHEAL LATHE: I had three DUIs in less than six years. My third one, Judge Howerton decided not to give me bond. So I never did go home, I was in jail for three months.

GEORGIA FOX: But when I got locked up the last time, it was a totally different sound before. Didn't know if there was going to be an out.

MICHEAL LATHE: My son informed me when I got out of jail that my mother and father were actually planning my funeral.

I could feel the death in me. I really could feel myself dying.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Two portraits of addiction, of unhappiness, and frustration. Portraits of people at the end of their ropes. For many like Georgia and Michael, addicts' lives are often caught up in an endless cycle of crime, arrest, jail, drugs and alcohol, crime, and re-arrest. But Georgia and Michael were given an alternative to jail, a chance to end the cycle and jump-start their lives. They took that chance, knowing full well it was going to be neither quick nor easy.

BAILIFF: All rise . . .

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: In the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, a special session is under way. Many of the faces in Judge Philip Howerton's DWI court are familiar to him. Each month, participants in Drug Courts appear before the judge's bench to report their progress, or lack of progress, in a relatively new program designed to fight the root cause of their legal troubles.

JUDGE HOWERTON: David has 129 days sober, folks. Come up here, Dave, I have a certificate for you.

JAMES PAYNE: One of the things that judges have traditionally done is arrived on the bench, listened to testimony and made decisions, and then leave. And then wait for people to do what they're supposed to do.

What started 15 years ago with drug court was the recognition that we have a responsibility to allow families and particularly individuals to improve their life so that they comply with the court orders. And we've done that through what we call therapeutic justice.

So we enhance their ability to comply with court orders by providing services and judicial leadership and putting together programs, holding meetings, convening individuals to help put this process together, is what's changed over the last 15 years.

WEST HUDDLESTON: Drug courts are a beautiful example of what we know as problem solving courts in America. This is really a representation of a different way of thinking in the courts, where the courts take responsibility of solving problems of the people that come before the courts, versus just throwing away people who have problems in prison.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Statistics conclusively prove that Drug Treatment Courts substantially reduce the drain on court and prison system resources. Over a three-year period in Mecklenburg County, the re-arrest rate for Drug Court Program clients was 11%. The national re-arrest rate for non-participants was 67%.

To incarcerate a single drug-using offender for one year can cost between 20 and 50 thousand dollars. The annual cost of a comprehensive drug court program for an offender is between 2500 and 4000 dollars.

Beyond the cost savings, an even greater benefit can be applied to the bottom line - the number of lives and families saved.

JUDGE HOWERTON: Laura has 224 days clean, folks. Way to go, Laura.

MEGHAN WHEELER: When you look at the application of treatment, it's not just about substance abuse treatment. What we found in drug court and what we found in family drug court is once you take away the substances, and once they engage in some recovery, there's a number of other issues that come up; whether that be mental health issues, other co-occuring disorders, trauma, transportation issues, housing issues.

The mechanism of case management is an opportunity to bring all of those treatment providers together to work towards a unified case plan, and if not so unified, a collaborative case plan.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Attending the drug court session are the public defender, the district attorney, a probation officer, a representative from the treatment facility, and the case manager. The case manager is the drug court system organizer, someone who guides the recovering addict through the maze of the legal system, as well as the healing process.

THOMAS AUSTIN: The probation officer may not know some things going on in this individual's life causes them to struggle with being clean and sober. Let's look at why they're not complying.

What drug court has done is enable for everyone to come to the same table. The judge is at the same table as the probation officer, as the treatment provider, as the case manager, all of which sitting at the same table, allowing us to discuss that client in depth from all the perspectives. The judge holds them all accountable.

DON MOORE (in meeting): Georgia, we want to review your case plan today . . .

My first duty with Miss Fox was to assess her needs . . . then it became case planning, followed by referrals and linkages. The most important part to me is advocacy. I'm her advocate.

DON MOORE (in meeting): I want to move you to Phase III.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: At her latest case plan meeting, Georgia presents Don Moore with a dilemma:

Her rapid progress through the program means she'll soon be moving out of the halfway house and won't be saving enough money to help out her daughter. As Georgia's advocate Don must be concerned for her financial situation, while encouraging her to complete her transition into mainstream society.

GEORGIA FOX (in meeting): If I could have a little more time to help her. She gets food stamps and that's covered, but there's extra stuff and I want to be able to help out, not that I can be a mom again.

DON MOORE (in meeting): That's great.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: After jail and the women's shelter, Georgia was referred to Hope Haven, a converted motel. Hope Haven is a halfway house, a transitional residence. For the last six months Georgia has shared a small room with another recovering addict.

GEORGIA: This is my degree from SAIL and this is my certificate from culinary school.

ALICE HARRISON: Georgia learns about sanitation and cooking here, while she goes through treatment.

Hope Haven's residents are homeless, unable to function in the outside world sober. The rules are simple; stay sober while you're here. If you're caught using you have to leave.

Residents are rehabilitated here, sometimes habilitated.

FLAY LEE: Being that some of our residents are homeless, on drugs, Hope Haven provides a safe place while they're in recovery.

BERNICE BARON: We offer her a place that's comfortable. A place where she feels safe and can just concentrate on Georgia and not worry about anything on the outside.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Today Michael Lathe is keeping his regular appointment with his substance abuse counselor at SAIL, the Southeast Addiction Institute and Learning Center. SAIL is an independent treatment facility where clients referred by the Drug Court are required to complete a months-long program of meetings, drug screenings and therapy. If Michael can stick with the rigorous requirements, he will graduate a sober man with a fresh beginning.

RUTH ANN THOMAS: So how's it going, Michael?

MICHAEL LATHE: I'm going to anger management program, because of assaults on a female of course. Doing the STEP program.

THOMAS AUSTIN: We have found that most clients not have only substance abuse issues, but mental health issues as well. So we have an on-staff psychiatrist to deal with those issues.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: At his private office, SAIL staff psychiatrist Warren Williams is conducting a session with a recovering addict named Pappy. Dr. Williams champions a three-pronged approach to treating chemical dependency.

WARREN WILLIAMS : You first have to treat their biological issues (depression, etc.).

Then there's the psychology of the person.

And finally there's the actual addictive substance. The triple recovery

RUTH ANN THOMAS: Graduates come back and tell me how well they're doing. They're still going to 12 Step meetings and using a sponsor.

GROUP LEADER: Good evening.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: A very important part of the drug treatment process is group therapy meetings; Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, 12-Step Meetings.

MICHAEL LATHE (VO): I look forward to my group meetings. I call them my classmates. You can feel safe there. You can say anything and know it'll stay right there.

MICHAEL LATHE (IN GROUP): I go to a lot of meetings, three or four a week, there's meetings all over this man's town.

DANA: He gets frustrated sometimes. There's so many meetings. Sometimes you have to pump him up and tell him he's doing a good job.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Dana and her daughter Shawna are now an integral part of Michael's life. In Shawna, Michael sees another chance to be the father he always wanted to be.

DANA: He missed the first three years of his grandchildren's lives. He basically feels like he lost three years of his life.

He loves that little girl to death. I honestly think she breathes life into him.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Georgia, too, is making up for lost time by becoming a mother again.

GEORGIA FOX: I have a 26 year-old. She's always been the caretaker. The youngest I call "grandmama." She's an old soul, wise beyond her years.

They call me Mom now. I'm not "that girl" or "that woman" or "it" or "Gigi," nickname. And that is a blessing because I get called now. "Mom, I'm doing this," or "such and such is going on in my life." There's still a lot of things we gotta fix. Not fix, excuse me, work on. Because I can't fix what I've screwed up. The only thing I can do is own up to what I've done. You know what I'm saying, work on those amends. And make it better.

They call me Mom now, not Gigi or "that woman," anything but a child of God.

JOE CARLONI: In this court model, the assessment is a more comprehensive, family oriented assessment that looks at obviously substance abuse issues and mental health issues, but goes beyond that to look at the needs of both the children and the adults, with an eye toward reunification. That assessment model in this process has a great deal to do with the development of case planning and the actual interventions used hopefully to reach unification.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Before Judge Howerton convenes his DWI drug court, there is an informal gathering of lawyers, a probation officer, a representative from SAIL and Michael Lathe's case manager, Yvonne Jones. In this pre-court staffing, the judge hears information on Michael's case, facts that help him decide whether to praise Michael and advance him toward graduation, or chastise him for infractions such as relapses, failed drug tests, missing meetings or unpaid debts. Yvonne reports that her client has had a relapse, a serious but typical setback for recovering alcoholics.

JUDGE HOWERTON (in meeting): You say he self-reported a relapse?

YVONNE JONES (in meeting): Yes sir, on 5/13.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: When court convenes, Judge Howerton calls clients to the front alphabetically. He knows Michael has been making good progress, and this relapse calls for encouragement, not punishment.

JUDGE HOWERTON: Mike had a self-reported relapse since the last court date. Since that time he's had 29 days clean time, is that right?

MICHAEL LATHE: That's correct, sir.


JUDGE HOWERTON: Mike, I know that's a tough deal and I appreciate your self-reporting that relapse. I want you to have a perfect score next time. And I think it would be a good idea for you to journal your meetings. They'll explain that to you in treatment.


VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Although the relapse is a setback, the judge sees it as an opportunity to for Michael to learn from his experience. Instead of feeling he has lost ground, Michael is actually encouraged to continue on his course toward recovery.

JUDGE HOWERTON: Keithlan Byrd, step up here. We're going to graduate you today.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: These two men have successfully completed the year-long drug court program. With certificates from the court and the SAIL program, the graduates begin new lives with a new attitude.

Michael knows he has a lot of hard work ahead of him, but in the smiles of these men he can see the light at the end of tunnel.

MICHAEL LATHE: I look forward to my graduation. When I personally turn around to Judge Howerton and thank him for those 90 days.

JUDGE HOWERTON: All right, folks, don't drink, go to meetings and we'll see you here next time.

DON MOORE: In two words, my motivation is Georgia Fox. The clients that are doing very well, and the change in people's lives, I feel that the drug court is making a difference in peoples' lives. This is a very successful program and I feel like were doing a good job.

RUTH ANN THOMAS: I feel I was put on the earth to help other people in their recovery.

THOMAS AUSTIN: Having people in jail and prison is expensive. It's not effective. We send people to prison with a substance abuse problem and when they get out, guess what, they still have a problem.

ALICE HARRISON: These people who go through the program are courageous, because it's not easy.

WEST HUDDLESTON: Drug Courts give us hope. They reunite families and restore self-worth.

WARREN WILLIAMS: The people who leave our program become our converts. The can be very zealous. No one is more zealous in convincing others to get off drugs, to show them there's a better way. They become our soldiers in the fight against what's become a major problem in America today . . . drug abuse.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Drug and alcohol abusers have a doubly strong team in their corner, the Drug Court system and treatment personnel. Leading that team is the case manager, a captain who sees the big picture, gathers the components of treatment, probation and the courts, then connects the dots. And throughout the entire process, the case manager keeps the client's intense desire for recovery at the forefront.

GEORGIA FOX: These people saved my life. These people are my support system. I never thought I'd say it but thank God for the police, the judge, the probation officer, SAIL, Hope Haven. I think of them as my guardian angels.

MICHAEL LATHE: I have become part of the program, instead of being in denial. I have the love of my family.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: With his life back on track again, Michael plans to marry Dana in the fall. He looks forward to raising Shawna and to rediscovering a sense of belonging.

DANA: He's so much more caring and considerate now. He's not just out for Michael. I feel like he cares about the baby. And he cares about me and he cares about his family now, where before all he cared about was where his next drink was coming from.

It's a long road, but I think he'll make it.

VOICE OVER NARRATOR: Two lives, two second chances, two faces changed in so many ways . . .

These are portraits of recovery.

MICHAEL LATHE: I have a lot to be thankful for. But the biggest part is being sober.

GEORGIA FOX: My first birthday sober in thirty years!

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