Drug court

Public defender Andrew Nadzam (from left), Circuit Judge Melissa Richard and assistant prosecutor Charlene Henry are shown Tuesday in Richardson’s courtroom.

JONESBORO — The drug court in Craighead County works to keep participants out of prison and in the process saves money for the county and state, said Circuit Court Judge Melissa Richardson, who oversees the court.

The court is an available avenue for those convicted of non-violent drug crimes and without a history of violence, Richardson said. If an offender successfully completes the program, which lasts at least one year, charges against them are dismissed. If a participant is washed out of the program, they face their original charges in circuit court, she said.

Drug court consists of a team comprising Richardson, assistant 2nd Judicial District Prosecutor Charlene Henry, public defender Andrew Nadzam, two probation officers, two substance abuse counselors and an administrative assistant. The team meets every Tuesday morning before the drug court meets at 8:30 a.m. The team reviews participants’ progress.

New participants must be at least 18 years old and start in Phase 1, in which they must attend drug court every Tuesday, attend a prescribed number of self-help programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous, and submit to several random drug tests each week. They must also be employed. Some Phase 1 members may have to undergo in- or out-patient treatment for drug dependency.

Phase 2 members attend drug court every other week, maintain employment and continue counseling.

Phases 3 and 4 members must attend at least one drug court session a month, continue counseling and employment and work to move toward more independence.

Random drug tests occur throughout the program, Richardson said.

Henry said a participant has his or her defense attorney approach the prosecutor’s office for inclusion. The participant is then screened for acceptance.

“The are 35 participants now,” Nadzam said. “The are openings now.”

Getting people into the program quickly is a priority, Richardson said.

“The earlier we can get someone in drug court, the better,” she said.

Nadzam said anyone with drug charges pending in circuit court can ask their attorney to look into drug court.

Another aspect of the court is that it helps participants do things like getting their driver’s licenses back and getting their GEDs.

“It’s very important that they work. Getting a GED is linked to reducing recidivism to drugs,” Henry said.

Richardson and Henry said the court saves money for the county and state.

“It doesn’t cost Craighead County because the state pays the cost,” she said.

With no drug court, more people are likely to reoffend, Richardson added.

She added that successfully completing the program saves the state because it doesn’t have to pay to incarcerate them.

“The state gets more bang for their buck,” Henry said.