Hawkins judge wants all drug treatment providers working as a team

Jeff Bobo • May 9, 2013 at 11:55 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The majority of Hawkins County defendants who enter Sessions Judge J. Todd Ross’ “Recovery Court” are likely to fail, but the few who complete the program successfully will make the time and effort put into the program worthwhile.

Recovery Court is more commonly called Drug Court, and although Ross occasionally catches himself accidentally referring to it as Drug Court himself, he prefers the more positive message that calling it Recovery Court sends.

The vast majority of crimes prosecuted in Hawkins County courts have drugs and/or alcohol at their core. The purpose of Recovery Court is to give defendants an opportunity to stay out of jail by entering a rehab facility or attending drug counseling and other addiction programs.

If they fail, they go back to jail. If they succeed, a life is saved and the taxpayers aren’t spending thousands of dollars to incarcerate that person.

In an effort to improve the chances for success, Ross has organized a “Recovery Opportunity Fair,” scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon at the Rogersville National Guard Armory.

The purpose of the fair is to bring together every service provider in Hawkins County that deals with addiction and recovery issues, put them all in the same room and hopefully encourage them to work together so that people who need their services aren’t slipping through the cracks.

Ross told the Times-News earlier this week that although there are 16 addiction programs available in Hawkins County churches, and many more offered by the health department and other clinics, not all of them are working together as a team at this time.

“What I’ve found was that although we have all these programs in place, most of the programs didn’t know about all the other programs,” Ross said. “Most of the programs are limited, and they only offer services one night a week or a one-hour group. If somebody goes there looking for help on a day when that specific program isn’t active, all they (the program) can do is say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t help you today.’”

Ross added, “But if they knew about all the other programs that are available in the county, they may be able to say, ‘we can’t help you, but call these people or let me call them for you, and they may be able to help you.’ It’s a way to network all those different agencies and organizations together to form a cohesive group.”

Those 16 churches offer some type of recovery program such as “Narcotics Anonymous” or “Celebrate Freedom.”

The Recovery Opportunity Fair will include each of those recovery program, along with programs provided by the Health Department and health clinics, pregnancy crisis services, as well as agencies offering food, clothing and other services.

“Although the focus and goal of the Recovery Opportunity Fair is to network and educate current and potential providers, anyone interested is certainly welcome and encouraged to attend,” Ross said. “Anyone affected by drugs and alcohol is invited, as well as representatives of local industry.”

Ross, who was elected last year and took over Sept. 1, almost immediately launched an effort to start a Recovery Court after taking over the bench.

The effort received a big boost when a representative from Frontier Health informed him about its community justice program.

“That program has been available to Hawkins County for several years, but no one ever took advantage of it,” Ross said. “It’s a program funded by the state to provide services for Hawkins, Greene, and Hamblen counties with a goal of cutting down on incarceration time by providing mental health treatment, which would include drug and alcohol treatment. It was a prayer answered and we started working together as far as treatment programs and treatment plans.”

The Recovery Court program was up and running in late December. A Recovery Court council comprised of Ross, representatives of the attorney general’s office, and volunteers from the community screen the candidates for the program.

Sometimes they’re accepted right away. Sometimes they get a taste of jail time before they are accepted.

Although the first defendant accepted into the program eventually tested positive for drugs and failed, Ross said there are currently several defendants in the program who have an excellent chance of succeeding.

“Most of the people we brought into this program, the reason they’re committing crimes is because of their addiction,” Ross said. “If we can help treat that we will help prevent them from coming back.”

Ross added, “We accepted our first participant in December, and we’re up to about 15 or 16 right now. Of course we’ve had some already fail. The first one we brought in failed. Most of them are going to fail. But for those who make it, it’s going to be a life change for them.”

Aside from Recovery Court, Ross utilizes Frontier Health’s community justice program to send defendants to both short-term and long-term residential drug treatment programs.

In 2012, the average cost to house an inmate in the Hawkins County jail was $22.40 per day.

Ross added, “Through these programs, in 2013 alone, the county has saved tens of thousands of dollars by providing treatment opportunities to these offenders, instead of jail time.”

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