As the opioid epidemic has worsened, the need for drug courts in Michigan has risen.
It’s no different in Romeo where the district court’s Drug Court is filled beyond capacity and seeks more state funds to try to help more drug addict overcome their affliction.
“We have exploded like crazy the past year,” said Kelley Morris, program coordinator for Drug Court at 42-I District Court, which has jurisdiction over much of northern Macomb County.
The program started with six participants when it was created in 2015 and now has 15 participants, three above its capacity based on funding.
“We’ve been very successful,” Morris said.
Morris said nine participants who started the program successfully completed it, with no failures, which is above the state average of about 65 percent of participants successfully graduating.
State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement on Monday attended the Drug Court session in Romeo, which included the graduation of two who will be replaced by a pair of new participants. The session was presided by Judge Denis LeDuc and Magistrate Jennifer Andary along with Clement.
Clement, who also met with Drug Court officials, told The Macomb Daily the visit was part of her mission to see all 180 problem-solving courts in Michigan to learn needs at courts individually and statewide. She has made it to about 40.
“This is one of the things I’m most passionate about,” said Clement, who was appointed in November 2017 and won an eight-year term last fall.
Problem-solving courts provide alternative justice for nonviolent offenders whose underlying medical and social problems have contributed to recurring contacts with the criminal justice system. The program typically lasts 1-1/2 to two years for each participant.
The state allocated $12 million to drug and sobriety courts last year. Clement said the state Legislature has been supportive of the specialty courts and hopes funding will continue to increase.
In Macomb County, there is a circuit court Drug Court, several district court drug courts as well as specialty circuit courts for Mental Health, Veterans Treatment and Swift and Sure Justice.
The Romeo Drug Court this year received $47,300 in two state grants to operate the program, an increase from last year but not enough to pay for all 15 participants until the end of the Oct. 1 fiscal year, Morris said.
That is where the court’s nonprofit partner, the North End Support Team, will help fund the various expenses for participants – most notably counseling and drug testing.
NEST also helps pay for transportation, which Clement said, along with housing, is a common need statewide, as well as other miscellaneous expenses, said Lisa McCalain of NEST.
Andary said those items are important “to remove those specific hurdles” that hinder people in recovery.
Morris said she will ask for more funds for next year.
On Monday, the graduates spoke at their last session. One graduate, a woman who appeared to be in her late 20s, said she is “having fun” in life now that she is sober.
“I’ve gotten an opportunity to find myself,” she said. “I get to be the best version of myself. I get to shake out all of the stuff out of the equation. I’m grateful I don’t need drugs to manage my life and that I get to have choices, healthy choices on who I want to be. It’s so refreshing to be able to be completely present for the people and experiences that I was missing for so long.”
The woman was told by Andary to “hug your mother,” and went into the courtroom galley and embraced her mom.
Two other participants were commended for passing phase I and entering phase II. One of them, a middle-aged man, broke down in tears reading his letter explaining how the program has changed his life.
“As I write this I realize I could be in jail right now,” he said, choked up. “I realize being accepted in this program was not just an opportunity, it’s a gift. I talked to a lot of people in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) who would like to be in this program and did not get the opportunity.
“I’ve learned that I have to forgive myself. … I’ve learned there’s certain things I can’t control and what not to do with those things, and I’ve learned how to deal with things I can control and what not to do with them.
“I’m seeing this journey has just begun but it’s far from over.”
Judge LeDuc said presiding over the program has been a journey for him, too.
Two participants were reprimanded for minor violations.