Drug court offers alternative sentencing

While drug crimes have emerged as Kitsap County’s No. 1 law enforcement issue, the problem would be a lot worse without Kitsap County Drug Court.

Now in its sixth year, this preventive program uses a combination of intensive counseling and direct judicial supervision to prevent recidivism and encourage addicts to actually kick the habit.

“Without drug court, many of these people would be on the scrap heap of society,” said Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof. “They would be breaking into my house, or your house. Instead, they’re working toward tangible rewards.”

The first step toward understanding who is in drug court is to define those who don’t qualify. People with a history of violent offenses or sexual crimes and those who have used a firearm in their most recent charge need not apply.

Additionally, those looking for the easy way out of their situation should probably pursue another strategy.

Most significantly, only someone who is actually an addict can participate. This is not intended for a first-time offender arrested on a small possession charge or a drug-dabbler who could quit at any time.

The eligible offenses for drug court include possession, drug-motivated forgery or theft and drug-related felony probation violation.

If someone qualifies for drug court, their case is flagged by the prosecuting attorney and they are taken out of the judicial system. If they flunk out of drug court after making a commitment, they are likely to receive a maximum sentence for their crime.

Drug court requires significant effort, including intense one-on-one counseling, 12-step meeting attendance and weekly court appearances for a minimum of 16 months.

So a first-time offender might be able to get off with a short sentence and finish that sentence well before drug court would be completed. But he or she might still be an addict.

Currently, about 70 people are enrolled in drug court. The program is coordinated by Cherie Lusk, who temporarily occupies the equivalent of a windowless closet adjacent to one of the jury rooms.

“Drug court takes some effort,” Lusk said. “But for the participants, it represents an investment in themselves.”

Roof is the primary judge in the program (Judge Karlynn Haberly also participates) and devotes a part of each Friday to the meetings. While there are no attorneys present, the proceedings are formal and carry the weight of the court.

Roof talks with each participant individually and within earshot of all, and the sessions are open to the public.

“It does a lot for these people when someone in a black robe cares about what they’re saying,” Roof said. “And at graduation, you have people who could never imagine talking in public addressing a room full of people.”

The extent of Roof’s personal involvement includes paying for incentive movie passes out of his own pocket and taking program graduates out to lunch.

Roof doesn’t think this represents any untoward generosity, saying, “It’s much the same as a parent who helps pay for Little League uniforms.

“I practiced law for 25 years and personally invested in my clients,” Roof said. “I rode their highs and suffered their lows. I didn’t realize how much I cared in this respect until I became a judge. At first this felt like freedom, but I soon found I was missing a personal involvement in their lives. (I wanted) to help them suffer their failures and applaud their successes.”

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