Editorial: Summit County Drug Court’s mission continues to change lives
December 27, 2017
It's impossible to know exactly how many lives the Summit County Drug Court has changed.
Several people in recent years have completed the program, which provides offenders an opportunity to have their charges dropped by undergoing an intensive, 18-month rehab process. The goal is for them to overcome their addictions, stay clean and become contributing members of society rather than toil away in a jail or prison cell on the taxpayer's dime.
The program is small and doesn't often receive fanfare. Many Summit County residents are surely unaware that it exists. But for the ones who've gone through drug court successfully, it's been a godsend, providing them a new lease on life — and that's to say nothing of the impact it has on the family members who get their sons, daughters, parents and spouses back.
The drug court is possible only through the commitment of the devoted public servants and nonprofit staffers involved with it, from Park City and Summit County law enforcement officers to county prosecutors and judges to workers at Valley Behavioral Health. Roughly six years after the program was officially implemented, it's proven to be a worthy use of their time and effort.
The proof of concept has also opened the door to an alluring thought: following in the footsteps of other Utah counties that have successfully implemented mental health courts, which operate in much the same way but are for offenders struggling with mental illnesses. It would seem to be a natural progression, given Summit County's push to dramatically improve mental health services.
At least one member of the County Council, Glenn Wright, has recently expressed support for the idea, and officials should explore it seriously. There are logistical stumbling blocks, such as figuring out how to staff an expanded or additional program, and the county would have to devote money to operating a mental health court. But the fiscal track record of the drug court is encouraging. A 2016 external evaluation found that the $20,000 the county paid annually to run the program was $10,000 less than the cost to house a single inmate in the Summit County jail for one year.
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"Summit County taxpayers are better served by having the drug court in place," the report states. "The County is saving a substantial amount of money, by having the drug offenders live at home, and work in the community, rather than sitting in jail."
That's a resounding endorsement for a program that has also proven to dramatically help the people it serves, and one that should have the county's leaders looking for ways to nurture and expand it. If they do, there's no telling how many more lives could be changed.
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