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Jasper County Expands Diversion Courts - KOAM TV 7

Jasper County Expands Diversion Courts

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JOPLIN, MISSOURI -  Diversion courts are expanding in Jasper County. Local judges recently returned from training on how they can operate. The county is adding a second drug court and has treatment courts for mental health and DWI.

Why? There are more than thirty thousand offenders in Missouri prisons and nearly one fourth have drug or DWI convictions.  A cost effective solution is diversion courts. A local participant in the Jasper county program explained how it changed her life.

Fina Eaton stands before Judge David Mouton and talks about her treatment and community service in DWI court. she was a long time alcoholic on her fourth dwi  when she got into the program.

Fina says it made a difference, “I would probably be dead. They gave me a choice to either do this program or go to prison. Probably going to prison would have been the easy way out."

Mouton says it's a different role for judges than simply wielding a gavel but rather working as encouragers.

Judge Mouton says, "You send people to prison but they're not necessarily in prison for very long. And they get out. And have you solved the problem that sent them to prison in the first place.  And so treatment courts are designed to help people turn their lives around."

It's a team approach with members of the court, probation and parole, the sheriff's office and the Freeman Ozark Center meeting every two weeks to discuss the individual cases.

Erik Thies, the court administrator says, “The reason they're  breaking the law is because they have a substance abuse problem. And so locking them up is not only costly, it doesn't fix the problem. So we're a problem solving court."

Sheriff's deputies track participants  and even do home searches for drugs or alcohol. While time intensive,  the sheriff says that can be better than throwing them in a cell.

Sheriff Randee Kaiser says, “Correcting the behavior, given options for treatment, given options for the offender  to correct their behavior, and give them some incentives  and motivations to correct their behaviors, that's where  the real solution is and it's not always in  incarceration ."

Fina says connections to support for long term alcohol recovery, and the  strict structure of the program including random urine analysis tests, brought her success.

Fina says, "We go really early in the morning and sometimes 3 times a week and its random. Some people complain about it and even I've complained. But it is what it is.  It's not supposed to be easy. If it was easy we wouldn't learn our lesson." 

Prosecutor Dean Dankelson says it's working and, "Not only are they not committing crimes, but they're doing the other things we expect of our solid citizens and it's turning them into productive members of society."

Fina has done so well she's qualified to get a driver's license with limited privileges something those with DWI convictions can lose for decades if not life. That will make getting to her job easier than on her bicycle. And a chance to work toward reuniting with the son she hasn't seen for two years.

Fina says her goal is to, "Be the mother my son deserves. He's a little boy. He's a child. He didn't ask for an alcoholic mother. But that's what he got. But he doesn't have to have a drunk."

She tells the judge, “I've definitely changed my life and I'm so happy to be here. I'm so happy to be alive.”

Treatment courts are not open to violent offenders. Still the potential incarceration cost savings are huge. For twenty-seven  hundred adults diverted from state prisons, the savings is about twenty-seven million dollars.

     To learn more about jasper county treatment courts,  

Click here for a link.

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