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OnTrack Inc. will lose control of an almost $1.9 million state contract this year with Jackson County's drug and family courts, a system the addictions recovery organization helped pioneer in 2001 to provide treatment rather than jail time for drug offenders.

“We didn’t have the level of confidence in OnTrack that we previously had because of the turmoil,” said Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Timothy Gerking.

Roiled by the departure of its founder, Rita Sullivan, Southern Oregon's largest addiction recovery provider has been hit with a series of scathing reviews by state health officials and didn't apply for the drug court grant this year. Instead, Jackson County Community Justice has submitted the grant, which requires approval by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, and OnTrack will remain a subcontractor.

"To make sure we were in line for funding renewal, we needed to impress the CJC that our program is stable, particularly after the turmoil and publicity associated with OnTrack," Gerking said.

Under the new 2017-19 contract, OnTrack will continue serving clients from the Adult Drug Court and the Recovery Opportunity Court, but Addictions Recovery Center will be the primary provider for the Community Family Court. Currently OnTrack handles all three programs, which focus on addressing multiple personal and family problems that could otherwise lead to criminal justice issues.

Despite OnTrack's recent problems, Gerking spoke highly of the organization's efforts to rehabilitate families and individuals struggling with addiction problems.

"I believe Rita (Sullivan) was personally instrumental in getting the drug courts off the ground," Gerking said.

The 2017-2019 grant, if approved, would provide Jackson County with $604,440 for the adult court, $664,300 for the family court and $624,150 for the opportunity court, totaling $1,892,890.

In 2015-17, OnTrack received $2,291,099 in grants from the state Criminal Justice Commission for those services, which works out to $615,096 for the adult court, $800,773 for the family court and $875,230 for the opportunity court.

Rick Nagel, interim executive director of OnTrack, said in an email response to questions that while the county would now be the primary contractor, OnTrack would still be providing services. He acknowledged, however, that issues with the Oregon Department of Human Services contributed to the Community Family Court services being switched.

"The partners providing the Drug Court services are the same, and instead of OnTrack paying the Court the money for their part of the process, Jackson County will be passing the money through to the partners," Nagel stated. "As for the community family court, OnTrack was proposing to bring the Addictions Recovery Center into the program back in December and when DHS expressed concerns about our Strengthening Preserving and Reunifying Families (SPRF) services, the Court decided to make the ARC the primary provider due to uncertainties about OnTrack’s relationship with DHS."

Nagel said OnTrack hopes to resolve these issues and has received positive feedback from the Oregon Health Authority about the progress his organization has made.

The loss of the grant money represents a significant portion of OnTrack's budget. According to OnTrack's 990 report to the IRS in 2015, it received $4.01 million in total grants. OnTrack reported $12.15 million in revenue in 2015 and $7.16 million in expenditures.

Jackson County's grant application for the drug court funding is far from a sure thing, as legislators debate a $1.4 billion budget shortfall.

Chris Thomas, grant analyst with the Justice Commission, said that budget issues are reflected in the reduced grant request received from Jackson County.

"In order to respond to the state budget, we are seeking decreases in our rates," she said.

Thomas said her commission will make a decision on the grants later this summer, after the Legislature figures out its budget.  

Throughout the state, 41 drug courts have applied for a total of $14.6 million in grants through the Criminal Justice Commission. Altogether there are 70 specialty courts in Oregon, though many don't request the grants. According to the Justice Commission, OnTrack has had the contract for the drug court since 2013. Before that, the grant was given to Jackson County Health and Human Services.

Based on the proposed new contract with Jackson County, the adult and recovery courts would receive $9 per day for each client. On average, both programs have 92 clients on a given day. Based on that amount, OnTrack would receive $302,220 from each of these two grants annually.

The grant for the family court would provide $13 a day, with an average of 70 families a day. That works out to $332,150 annually for ARC.

Community Justice Director Eric Guyer said a number of agencies receive support from the grant. Health insurance, which is typically provided through the Oregon Health Plan, provides funding for client treatment as well.

Guyer said Community Justice will not charge overhead costs to administer the grant to make sure the program continues to be operated successfully and to ensure its continuity.

He said the goal is to get most of the money directly to caseworkers who work with the clients.

"The administrative time our agency will spend with this grant will not be reimbursed from the grant," he said. "We were happy to step in there and help out."

Other grants pay for parole and probation officers, who are involved in some of the cases that go before the drug court, he said.

"A lot of people in the community are stepping up for this program to make it viable and workable," Guyer said.

Although the drug court started in December 2001, Jackson County created the nation's second family court to deal with delinquent children in 1998, according to the Oregon Judicial Department. The idea was to coordinate judicial and social services to work with offenders dealing with behavioral issues and multiple legal problems.

In 2002, the Jackson County Circuit Court merged the delinquency court and the drug court into a single Community Family Court. In 2006, a partnership of local agencies created an adult drug court that was designed, in part, to deal with the growing methamphetamine problem. In 2011, the opportunity court was created for felons with drug problems who have violated their parole an opportunity to avoid returning to prison.

The adult drug court, which has about 125 participants a year, defers sentencing of an offender and provides a way to reduce a sentence in exchange for successfully completing a treatment program.

From 2005 to May 2016, of the 716 local participants in adult drug court, 55.5 percent graduated, higher than the national average of 53 percent. Of the pool of graduates, 15.3 percent committed a new crime within three years, much lower than the national recidivism rate of 25 percent.

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said the drug courts previously sent some offenders to OnTrack's HOME Program, also known as the Mom's Program. The program, located on Delta Waters Road in Medford, has beds for 29 mothers and can also handle up to 60 children.

“There’s really nobody else in the community who can fill that role,” she said.

After the Oregon Health Authority threatened to shut down the Mom's Program because of safety risks to children, the residential treatment facility on Delta Waters is currently not accepting new clients.

Because the Mom’s Program can’t accept new people, more offenders are being treated on an outpatient basis, though it’s too soon to tell how effective that will be, Heckert said.

She said OnTrack’s recent issues have been a topic of discussion among partners in the drug court system.

“I know there’s concern that we may not have residential treatment, like the Mom’s Program and the Dad’s Program, in the community,” Heckert said. The Dad's Program is another residential treatment facility run by OnTrack. Although the state has found problems with the Dad's Program, it hasn't threatened to revoke its license as it has with the Mom's Program.

Under the new state contract with the county, Guyer said that even though the Mom's Program can't accept new offenders, there still will be an effort to place people in residential treatment, if warranted. 

ARC does have a 28-bed residential facility, with the ability to serve pregnant women, but doesn't have facilities for mothers with children. Children have lived at the Naumes Cottage Women's Transition House, which has a capacity of six people.

ARC, which expects to start handling the family court offenders in July, has been expanding its services for several years to respond to the growing need for treatment programs, according to Christine Mason, chief executive officer.

In January 2016, ARC relocated its outpatient care to East Main Street and also recently added a medically monitored detox and mental health program, Mason said.

To keep up with demand, ARC has an ongoing recruitment effort to hire addiction treatment professionals.

"We have been working closely with the family court team for several months, and anticipate a smooth transition for those needing care,” Mason said in an email response.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Patricia Crain said OnTrack previously has been actively involved in securing both federal and state grants that were needed to support the drug court program from its inception, even though the grants were sometimes administered by the county, Crain said.

"Rita (Sullivan) has written every single drug court grant," she said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.


OnTrack is losing control of a major state grant, which will now be administered by Jackson County. {Mail Tribune file photo]