Getting a second chance

St. Charles County Treatment Court is one of the most successful programs in the country at giving offenders a chance at recovery instead of prison

By Brett Auten

Michael was at the end of his rope. 

He had messed up plenty of times before but this was different. The snarled steel and the hiss of reality were all around him. Michael was drinking and driving. Something he had done too many times before, but on this night the St. Charles County resident – who asked that his last name is left out of this story – had caused an accident where two others were injured. The wail of the sirens sounded his impending doom.

Soon after, he was being charged with two felony assault counts and potentially up to seven years in prison. Michael wasn’t a bad person, just sick. He needed help and prison isn’t always the best place to receive the kind of help he needed.

“I was willing to do whatever it takes,” Michael said. “I wanted to get better and figure out how to deal with it but I didn’t know what to do. I thought I could control my drinking on my own. They say you have to hit rock bottom and this was certainly my bottom.”

Enter the St. Charles County Treatment Court. 

Treatment courts represent the combined efforts of justice and treatment professionals to actively intervene and break the cycle of substance abuse, addiction and crime; and St. Charles County has one of the most respected programs in the country.  Treatment court entails intense analysis, counseling, random but frequent drug or alcohol testing, and constant court supervision and the St. Charles County program is one of eight mentor program in America. 

An estimated 94 percent of graduates of the program since it started in 2000 have not reoffended, whereas the national average is close to 75 percent. Court officials from across the country come to St. Charles to learn how to improve their programs. For example, in June a representative from Maryland will be in the area as well another from the White House.

Julie Seymore is the Treatment Court Administrator for St. Charles County. 

“It is a tough, rigorous program that has evolved over the years,” Seymore said. “The goal has always been to keep them out of the judicial system and into a life of recovery.”

The criteria to stay in the program is filled with accountabilities. Not only do members attend treatment several nights a week, but there is community service and not only do the participants have to pay program fees, but they must also either be employed or enrolled in school. 

Underneath the St. Charles County Treatment Court umbrella is five separate tracts: drug, DWI, veterans, co-occurring (meaning both mental and substance issues) and family. The DWI tract houses the most members. The veterans tract is in its fifth year.

“Veterans who have had difficulty transitioning to civilian life are often suffering from PTSD or TBI,” Seymore said. “To put them in regular treatment programs didn’t do justice to what they experienced. It is so much different.”

The numbers are startling and the proof is, as they say, in the pudding. Two-thirds of all adult arrestees and over half of juvenile arrestees test positive for illicit drugs at arrest and up to 80 percent of child abuse and neglect cases and nearly 50 percent of domestic violence cases are substance-abuse related. Incarceration of drug-using offenders costs between $20,000 and $50,000 per person, per year. Nearly two out of three people who go to prison do reoffend and for the cost of sending one person to prison, three can go through treatment court. Evaluations from the state of Oregon and Dallas County, Texas, have shown that for every dollar invested in treatment court, nearly ten dollars are saved by corrections

Last week, the St. Charles County Court was filled with another graduating class, the 23 there bumped the total number of graduates to 1,523. It was a room filled with men and women who were beyond grateful that they were granted a new chance at a clean and sober life.

“I’m married now and have a child,” Michael, who graduated in 2017, said. “These were all things that I wanted but I just wasn’t able to grab because I was too busy feeding my addiction and not being the person I could be. This was a stepping stone that was challenging and difficult but it allowed me to redirect my life and put the pieces together in ways I never imagined.”

CUTLINE: Photo by Kate Edmonson St. Charles County Treatment Court is one of the most respected programs in the country.  Treatment court entails intense analysis, counseling, random but frequent drug or alcohol testing, and constant court supervision and the St. Charles County program is one of eight mentor program in America.