Drug court loses funding, but county to press on

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz George Allen reads a letter about how the drug court program has helped him become sober and set his life in a positive direction. Earlier this week the county learned that more than $130,000 in federal funding was cut. Judge Thomas LaCross said he intends to keep the program active and try to make up some of the lost revenue through community support initiatives.

ALPENA — The Alpena County Adult Drug Court has helped addicts overcome their dependency on narcotics and alcohol since its inception in 2012. It utilized a federal grant to begin and to help the program, but last week it learned the federal funding will cease.

During a special meeting in the 88th District courtroom, Judge Thomas LaCross explained what drug court is, does and how it impacts the participants and community. He exchanged ideas from those at the meeting on how the lost funding could be made up, as well as listened to people who are in or graduated from the program.

LaCross said the Enhancement Grant the county has received for the last several year will not be given this time around and it will result in a loss of about $133,000 in revenue that helps pay for salaries and benefits, as well as testing and counseling. He said despite the bad news, he intends to continue to move forward with the program, even if minor changes and fewer expenses are needed. He said only 34 of 122 drug courts that applied for funding received it. LaCross said the program has been administered well and the results are solid,

“There is a misconception that we did something wrong, what we did or did not do,” LaCross said. “The court we have here in Alpena is unique and successful and although it may be the end of the funding, we are going to continue it.”

LaCross said the federal government likes supporting programs, but expects them to become self sustaining over time. He said other counties, such as Cheboygan and Otsego, that have lost funding have done just that and the drug courts continue because of local support. That, LaCross said, is what he hopes will happen in Alpena.

“They continued on and took care of their own,” he said.

LaCross said working with other drug courts in the area could be one way to cut expenses, or to have others consolidate with Alpena County. He said the use of telecommunications would allow participants to appear for drug court, albeit not in person.

First Congregational United Church of Christ Pastor Paul Lance said there are at 27 churches in Alpena and many of them offer support to programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon. He said perhaps the churches can help.

“Maybe we can make it our mission and raise and donate funds, that is if the bridge between church and state can be crossed,” he said.

During the meeting there were several people who spoke in favor of keeping drug court alive.

George Allen, who is in his 10th month in the program and has been sober throughout his time in it, read a letter he wrote about how important drug court is to him and how it has helped change his life for the better. He said he was a base line alcoholic and lost jobs, homes, family and his will to live because of his addiction. He wrote that the program made him feel safe, cared about and over the months his confidence grew. Allen said now he has his own apartment, food to eat, is continuing his education and being a more productive member of society.

“I’m not doing this program to avoid a prison sentence,” Allen read. “I’m doing it because it saves lives and actually helps people make changes the world wants to see. That is what makes me proud of myself and my ability to help other people.”

LaCross said he is proud of Allen because speaking about something as important and personal as his drug court experience was likely difficult.

“That was hard for him, but it is messages and stories like his that people need to hear in order to understand how important this program is,” LaCross said. “We have some people in college now, when they wouldn’t be without the program. Others are getting their GED. Without drug court there is a good chance they would still be out on the streets doing bad things. That is why I will continue on as normal. We have to. We can’t arrest our way out of the problem of addiction.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.