Drug Court Aims to Help Teens Kick Habit! 

Drug Court Aims to Help Teens Kick Habit! 
Posted by FoM on March 11, 1999 at 08:26:05 PT

 Justice: Program due to start in April will give youths chance to shorten probation or avoid jail by agreeing to get treatment and stay clean. 
 In an effort to steer young drug users away from crime and help them kick their habits, Ventura County is weeks away from launching a juvenile drug court modeled after the successful adult program that came to the county four years ago.   The teen drug court, scheduled to start in early April, will give youths the chance to shorten their probation period or even avoid time in juvenile hall if they agree to receive treatment and stay off drugs.   In response to a shortage of substance-abuse programs and overcrowded juvenile-detention centers, teen drug courts are being developed throughout the state. The goal is to get youths off drugs before they become addicted and commit more crimes to support that addiction.   "We see many kids who it's really obvious that they have a serious drug problem and that it is driving their criminal behavior," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Miles Weiss, who oversees the juvenile unit. Through the drug court, Weiss said, the county hopes to identify those youths, treat their addictions and prevent them from relapsing and repeating crimes.   The juvenile drug court, which will meet every Friday afternoon, is still in the planning stages. For the last several months, drug counselors, probation officers, judges and attorneys have been organizing the program, which will be funded by a $250,000 federal grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Planning.   With the money, Ventura County Alcohol and Drug Programs will hire two full-time and two part-time alcohol and drug counselors and will reassign a community outreach coordinator to the drug court. Funding will also be used to pay two full-time deputy probation officers. County supervisors are expected to adopt a resolution in support of the drug court next week. * * *   Initially, there will be space for 45 teens with drug and alcohol problems. Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren, who will screen youths for the program, said teens will be able to participate even if they weren't arrested for drug or alcohol crimes.   The teens will spend 12 or 18 months under intense supervision by a probation counselor, who will periodically conduct home and school visits. During that time, the youths will regularly undergo drug testing and make court appearances. They also will receive counseling and therapy--either at Apollo High School in Simi Valley or at the Oxnard Campus Pointe, formerly Oxnard High School. And they will be encouraged to participate in support groups and recreational activities.   The drug court program will work in conjunction with the Simi Valley and Oxnard programs. Currently, about 150 Apollo students participate in the school's substance-abuse program, in which they receive family and individual counseling and attend support-group meetings for anger management, sober living, drug awareness and narcotics abuse.   Treatment is a critical component to drug court, probation officers said.   "One of the things that has come up over and over is the lack of resources for kids with drug and alcohol problems," Chief Deputy Probation Officer Terry Warnock said. "We really see this as an opportunity to serve those kids."   According to a 1997 report on juvenile justice, there is a shortage of substance-abuse centers for youths in Ventura County. There are three county-funded outpatient drug clinics, along with only one six-bed residential treatment unit for girls and none for boys.   Even within the juvenile detention centers, substance-abuse programs are slim. * * *   Luis Tovar, acting program administer for the county's alcohol and drug programs, said that treatment for teens has been "hit and miss" until now. But an intensive program like drug court could deter youths from more criminal behavior and get them on the track to being responsible adults, he said.   Because the drug court program could be an alternative to juvenile hall, it may help relieve overcrowding in the county's juvenile detention centers.   In any case, public defenders and drug counselors say the teens will receive more support getting off drugs in the court program than they would in detention centers.   "It focuses on their sobriety as an individual and helps them work with their addiction," Deputy Public Defender Maria Santana said. "The kids who really want to stop being drug users will be able to stop."   Out of the 140 people who have graduated from Ventura County's adult drug court, 87% have stayed out of trouble, Superior Court Judge Rebecca S. Riley said.   "For those who really want to change their lives, this can be the door that opens for them," Riley said. "Not only does drug court help them get free of their addiction, it really gives them some education and training."   The adult drug court allows drug offenders to stay out of jail and kick their habit in exchange for a guilty plea and a year's worth of hard work, drug tests and meetings. But Riley said only about half of the people who start the drug court program finish. The others, she said, are serious addicts and need more help than the drug court team can give them.   Recently, Deputy Probation Officer Feleceia Williams-Brown gave a graduating student a present and a cake and told her to come back and say hello, but not to come back "in blues."   Martin Martinez, 27, who has been in the program for six months, said drug court gave him a second chance. After years of drinking and doing drugs, Martinez said he feels like he is finally living a normal life. Without the drug court program, he said he would be in jail with no motivation to stay clean. * * *   Drug court also aims to give drug users incentives to change their behavior while holding them accountable for their actions. Perren said that youths who graduate from the program may get their probation time reduced, avoid time in juvenile hall or get their case dropped. But youths who have trouble following drug court rules may face short stints in juvenile hall.   "Through the authority and power of the court, you're able to get the attention of these young adults and impress upon them the seriousness of their offense and the danger of the path they are taking," County Supervisor Kathy Long said. Then, she said, they are shown the support systems that are available.   Los Angeles County started its first juvenile drug court in June. Superior Court Commissioner Robert Totten said the intensive yearlong program has the potential to benefit both the adolescents and society. But he said officials have to be careful not to impose adult standards on juveniles.   He said most of the adults who enter drug court have only one focus: getting clean. But many of the teens have other concerns: school, friends, jobs, parents and peer pressure. And they sometimes aren't ready to give up alcohol or drugs.   Totten said he often sends teens to residential treatment centers at the start of the program so they are away from their friends and can "dry out." Then, once they have the tools to resist the drugs or alcohol, he lets them go home.   Perren said he doesn't know how the drug court will work in Ventura County. But he hopes it will give the teens the skills and support to solve their drug problems.   "We as a society are forever looking for the Rosetta stone that will turn unintelligible behaviors into intelligible solutions," Perren said. "It doesn't exist. But we keep looking because we're committed to helping kids."
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: