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MailTribune.com
  • Josephine County Drug Court graduates regain clean records and self-respect

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  • Drug Court graduate Lina Moscarella and Judge Gerald Neufeld take pridein her graduation from the innovative Josephine County drug-offender programFriday.
    GRANTS PASS -- Family and friends attending graduation day Friday atJosephine County's Drug Court heard testimonials from a police officer,a judge, employers and others, but none more heartfelt than a mother's.
    Choking back tears, Linda McCann rose to acknowledge her daughter LinaMoscarella's achievements while in the alternative sentencing program fornon-violent drug offenders -- more than a year drug-free and some 181 hoursof community service work performed.
    I'm so glad she had this opportunity, McCann told JosephineCounty Judge Gerald Neufeld. She was on her way to jail. ... I'm sothankful that you should be able to understand addiction, and to treat peoplelike human beings, and help them.
    It was a powerful testimonial for a program begun in March 1996 thatnow provides close judicial supervision and constant counseling for 60 JosephineCounty drug offenders.
    Moscarella, who sat with her well-groomed toddler on her lap throughmost of the proceedings, told the court, I'm really grateful thatI got to do all this and that I'm still with my son. My life is very differentnow. I'm just very happy, very grateful and proud.
    Moscarella was joined before the bench Friday by three other Drug Courtgraduates -- Pat Murphey, Ron Fudge and Richard Martin -- four of nine whohave completed the innovative program since its inception.
    To each, Neufeld presented a certificate of appreciation from the countyand a glossy blow-up of mugshots taken upon their arrest. The Jekyll-and-Hydetransformations, evident to everyone in the packed courtroom, drew a squirmof recognition from each of the grads -- and warm laughter and applausefrom their families and friends.
    The transformations were wrought by a Drug Court program that combinesthe close judicial supervision with frequent drug testing and counseling(often several times a week), community service, and a graded series ofsanctions for non-compliance.
    Non-violent drug offenders who qualify for the program can avoid jail,and if they graduate, have their charges dropped. Those who fail to complymay be dropped from the program and prosecuted.
    From its inception in Miami under then-Dade County Prosecutor Janet Reno,Drug Courts have spread to more than 29 states, with similar programs soonto be established in 14 other states. Since 1994, grants from the Departmentof Justice have encouraged the creation of scores of Drug Courts nationwide,with grants of $16 million to 125 communities in 1997 alone. The JosephineCounty program is one of five in Oregon, which has Drug Courts in Douglas,Klamath, Lane and Multnomah counties.
    Driving the creation of the courts is not just federal dollars, but mountingevidence that they work. They are credited with saving up to $5,000 in jailcosts per participant -- not to mention health care dollars saved becausethe several hundred babies born to Drug Court mothers since 1994 were borndrug-free (with estimated savings of from $10,000 to $250,000 per baby).
    A Summary Assessment of the Drug Court Experience, preparedby American University in May 1996, reported that Drug Courts dramaticallylowered recidivism and promoted sobriety through their reliance on treatment,frequent hearings, frequent urinalysis, and judges' ability to deal promptlywith relapses through a variety of sanctions.
    The opportunity to avoid jail time isn't a wrist slap, however.
    Neufeld said the Josephine County program is far more rigorous than ajail sentence, which for a methamphetamine charge rarely amounts to morethan 10 days due to overcrowding.
    With traditional forms of probation, the monitoring and scrutinizingisn't nearly as intense, Neufeld said.
    Along with close monitoring and counseling, participants also receivetraining in life skills, eventually getting jobs, paying off debts to thecourt, and requalifying for drivers' licenses.
    Of the 60 now in the program, very few have reoffended, but no programoffers a cure-all, Neufeld said.
    Rosheen Raugi, one of the first to graduate, died of a heroin overdosejust two weeks after completing the program in May. No other graduate hasreoffended.
    Could such a program work in Jackson County? Law enforcement and drugtreatment providers say they're interested.
    Rita Sullivan, director of OnTrack drug treatment services, favors theDrug Court model.
    It provides a consistent judiciary response, Sullivan said.I trained as a psychologist, and I know that the closer the responseis to the transgression, the more effective it is.
    Recently appointed District Court Judge Pat Crain said local judges arevery interested in any program that gets results and reduces jail overcrowding.However, consideration of any such program will have to be postponed twoor three months because of the ongoing consolidation of the Jackson CountyCircuit and District courts, she said.

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