The Gordon County Chamber of Commerce held a “Lunch and Learn” at the Calhoun Depot on Wednesday, Nov. 14. The event was sponsored by the District Attorney’s office, and it gave a chance for local leaders to talk about drug court and the impact it has had on the community.
One of the guest speakers for the event was Judge Scott Smith of the superior court of the Cherokee Judicial Circuit, and also the drug court judge in Gordon County.
Smith was a graduate of Calhoun High School and said, “It feels good to serve the public that gave me a chance.”
He said drug court should be called responsibility court, because it holds the participants accountable for their actions by making the participants have a job, do community service and meet with a councilor.
Drug court was started in 2008 and had five participants. Smith said they have now seen 172 people and graduated 69 since its conception.
He said the graduation rate does not reflect how many people have made life changes.
“It is a difficult program,” Smith said. “We induct people with dependency problems, and some people have been arrested six, seven, eight, or even nine times. Some people are homeless, and some have never held a job in their lives.”
There is a 75 percent success rate for the drug court, according to Smith. The way they measure success is the participants that remain outside of the justice system.
Smith said with most state supervision services there is usually a 50 to 55 percent chance the person will come back.
He said the program has not cost, but rather saved the taxpayers of Gordon County money.
“You’re talking about managing 50 to 60 folks that would normally be in prison or jail. The average cost for putting someone in jail is $35 a day,” Smith said. “If you took these 172 folks and multiplied there time by $35 dollars a day for the days they spent in drug court, and you compare that to the cost of what we spend on them. We have saved this county over $800,000 dollars in fees and incarceration fees.”
And according to Smith the highest the drug court’s budget has ever reached is $1,500, and that money comes from federal grants and money allotted from the state; the money does not come from Gordon County.
But Smith said what is really important is not the money, but getting to see a family reunite after being torn apart by drugs.
He introduced a graduate of the program, who wanted to remain anonymous in this article due to the sensitivity of the topic, who made a turnaround due to the drug court program.
“I was born and raised in Calhoun, and the battle with drugs had been a struggle sense my high school years,” the graduate said. “Living that life, it’s inevitable you’re going to run into legal trouble.”
He said drug court is a choice, not a mandate, but it would not work unless the participant of the program is willing to make a change.
“It (drug court) gets to the root of the cause, and changes that,” the graduate said. “But change is hard, difficult and scary.”
He said when he entered the program he was unemployed, had destroyed education opportunities and career paths, but drug court was a way to protect himself from himself long enough to get his feet up under him.
“The program has helped me open doors and rebuild bridges,” the graduate said.
The second guest speaker of the meeting was Judge Bell Tilley, who is a juvenile court judge in Bartow County, and also the family drug court judge.
She talked about all the things the family drug court has done for Bartow County, but explained why Gordon County does not have this service.
She said the reason Gordon County does not have this service is due to funding, and Gordon County only has a part time juvenile court judge.
Tilley said the structure of the family drug court is the same as the structure of the drug court, and the positions within the program are voluntary.
She said Bartow County was the third family dependency court in the state, and it mainly dealt with methamphetamine abuse.
The purpose of the family drug court is to deal with the drug problems within the family environment specifically, and to protect the children living in the households.
“It is hard for children to reconstruct back to families, but it is extremely rewarding when they can,” Tilley said.
According to Tilley, the family drug court has returned 30 children back to parent graduates of the program that were drug free.
Along with the presentation about drug courts the President of the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Phillips, gave District Attorney Joseph Campbell a gift to show the Chamber’s appreciation for the work that Campbell has done in the community during his tenure as the District Attorney of The Cherokee Circuit Court, as Campbell will be retiring in January.
“It has been a labor of Love,” Campbell said.