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By Nicole Trottie
MAYWOOD | The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded $324,811 to the Circuit Court of Cook County Drug Treatment Court programs in the Markham, Maywood and Bridgeview courthouses. The grant has a potential total value of $947,519 over a three-year period as the Circuit Court will re-apply for more funds – $324,752 for the second year and $324,956 for the third year – after the first year of funding.
Defendants enter the drug courts voluntarily, and all participants are charged with nonviolent crimes.
“For nonviolent defendants who are driven by drug addiction, the court exercises compassion in the pursuit of justice. Treatment, not punishment, is the best option to pursue,” Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said.
“Many times, these individuals would rather receive a short-term jail sentence so that they can start using again upon release. Instead, we offer a long-term effective treatment plan that can help end their suffering and the suffering of their families and friends. This grant funding will allow us to enhance our existing services and help defendants find a future of sobriety.”
The three suburban courts will now work with case managers from TASC Inc. who will provide clinical assessments of all defendants entering the drug courts. The case managers will determine what level of treatment is needed and whether it will require out-patient or in-patient services.
The case managers are also trained to help defendants enroll in Medicaid and also re-enroll as required every year. The coverage under Medicaid can pay for the drug court defendant’s treatment.
The judges who preside over the drug courts offered their appreciation for the federal grant.
“I see firsthand the devastation opioid and cocaine addiction ravages on families and on a community,” said Circuit Judge Ramon Ocasio III of the 4th Municipal District in Maywood. “Nationwide, 78 people die each day from opioid overdoses, and in 2015, over 33,000 people died. Our approach in Drug Treatment Court is to inject the presumption of mercy. We understand that we cannot arrest and jail our way out of this problem. We follow a holistic methodology. Our hope is that this serves as a catalyst for introspection and soul-searching. Our goal is to empower clients to take control of their lives. This grant will help the courts create a better world.”
“This means that we can help a lot more people, and we can get them the kind of treatment they need,” said Associate Judge Carmen K. Aguilar of the 5th Municipal District in Bridgeview. “There are so many people affected by this. All you have to do is open up your newspaper. Everybody, all walks of life – young, old, previously employed, mothers, fathers, kids. Even if this grant only helps 10 percent of the population, when you help that amount of people, it helps their families, their young ones, their communities. They’re not stealing anymore; they’re productive citizens.”
“This grant will help restore individuals to wholeness, heal fractured relationships, recover things which have been lost as a result of addiction and illness,” said Associate Judge Darron E. Bowden of the 6th Municipal District in Markham. “This grant will allow dreams deferred to become reality resulting in better individuals, families and communities. As a result of this award, the incarceration – pre- and post-trial – of individuals because of an illness will be greatly reduced. With the continued financial support, on the front end, of these programs, we will see a more effective way of addressing these issues.”