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Floyd County expands accountability courts; offenders with addictions, mental illness may be eligible for rehab

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A new accountability court offering drug offenders rehabilitation instead of jail could be operating by July 1, according to Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston.

“This program teaches them not just how to deal with addiction, but how to deal with life. That’s why it’s so successful,” Colston told the County Commission during its caucus session Tuesday.

The board signed off on Colston’s project, which is covered by a first-year state grant of $149,000 and the expectation of continued funding.

Commissioners also renewed Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach’s mental health court for a second year, accepting a $208,338 grant that includes money for a new case manager position. Karen Tovey, coordinator for the mental health court, said the two alternative sentencing programs would mesh well together.

“You’re supposed to treat substance abuse first because it can mask or mimic mental illness, but it’s hit or miss sometimes,” Tovey said.

The programs are voluntary, and offenders who are accepted for the highly supervised phased treatment must pay a fee. Tovey said it’s $500 for the mental health court, which is lower than most across the state. Details are still being worked out for the drug court.

“But it’s important they be invested in it, not just physically but financially,” Colston told the board.

Chaquita Crawford, from Colston’s office, will be the coordinator for the new court. Workers are already renovating space on the third floor of the County Courthouse for an office.

Commissioners approved five new positions for the court — the coordinator, two counselors, a law enforcement officer and a lab technician.

Colston said violent offenders would not be eligible for the alternative sentencing. She plans to start out by taking people whose probation is about to be revoked; not new cases. Drug courts in the state average a 75-percent success rate, she said, but hers may be lower at first.

“We’re going to be taking the worst of the worst,” she said. “If you put a dealer in jail, another one will take his place. This is the only way to combat it.”

Tovey said the mental health court has 20 participants in what is a two-year program and the first round of graduations is expected this fall. The court can handle 30 people at a time, but the drug court will likely have a larger capacity because the treatment is less complicated.

“This is going to save us money in the long run, not housing inmates,” Commissioner Scotty Hancock said.

However, the board cautioned Colston and Tovey that the future of the programs would be contingent, to some extent, on the continued availability of state and federal grants.