JEFFERSONVILLE — Two specialty courts in Clark County aimed at helping people with addiction or mental health issues are expected to continue into the next year under new leadership.
Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Magistrate William Dawkins will now oversee the Clark County Addiction Treatment and Support Program (CCATS) with Josh Seybold remaining the program manager.
Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael will oversee the Clark County portion of the Veterans Court of Southern Indiana, started by Floyd County Superior Court No. 2 Judge Maria Granger in 2011.
The Southern Indiana Life Improvement Project, started about a year ago to help people not in the courts system, was not awarded state funding to continue.
CCATS was started in late 2018 by Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 Judge Andrew Adams with the goal of helping people with addiction or mental health issues or both break the cycle of incarceration. Participants identified as good candidates for the program first go through an initial longterm in-patient treatment, followed by regular support from the court — through help with such things as sober living, finding jobs and housing and accountability.
Adams later joined Granger in expanding the veterans court to help Southern Indiana veterans regain their footing and then worked to start the Southern Indiana Life Improvement Project.
After Adams lost his bid for re-election to a second term to candidate Dane Moore, who will be sworn in Friday, the courts worked to make a smooth transition for the programs’ participants even before the year ends.
“I think problem-solving courts work,” said Carmichael, who has already been sitting in on veterans court and meeting with participants. “My idea of the justice system is not about just punishment or just lock people up and throw away the key. My idea is let’s get them the resources and the services they need — especially for those veterans who have served our country. They deserve better and we should give them every opportunity to succeed.”
Carmichael said it was important to help make the transition smooth for participants — the Clark County portion of veterans court averages about 10 to 15 participants at a time. With CCATS, program director Seybold said there are around 18 active participants right now.
If the programs were to stop, “we would hope that they would have the resources to continue with their treatment outside of the system,” Carmichael said. “But for a lot of these folks, it really takes that seeing a judge every other week, that kind of holds their feet to the fire and having a case manager and can call them every day and check on them.
“That’s how these people got in trouble in the first place — because they didn’t have those supports. So if we pulled the rug out from under them at the end of the year, it would have been devastating.”
Clark County Magistrate Jeffrey Branstetter will assist Carmichael and fill in if she has a conflict in her own court.
Magistrate Dawkins, who’s also worked in family court and the previous drug court in Clark County, said he’s honored to help lead CCATS with Seybold.
“One of the primary reasons that folks get involved in the criminal justice system is drugs and alcohol,” Dawkins said. “We have good people who get addicted who then commit crimes associated with drugs and alcohol.
“Well, if we assume for the sake of argument that we don’t treat these folks as criminals but we treat them as somebody suffering from a disorder...at the end of the day we have good people that have a condition that can be remedied.”
The program gives the opportunity for some lesser nonviolent charges to be altered or served outside of jail, which Dawkins said can also be an overall benefit to communities when participants are successful.
“[If] you take an individual out of society, where they’re not being a mom, they’re not being a dad, they’re not paying taxes and we put that burden on the state to house them, well think about the economic costs, think about what that does to our community,” he said.
“If we can look at as let’s treat this condition, allow them to work, allow them to get some measure of recovery, allow then to be moms and dads...what’s the downside to that?”
Carmichael and Dawkins gave credit to Adams for the hard work they say goes into starting such programs — ones they say as a veteran and previous public defender in veterans court was something he has a passion for.
“This is not part of our docket, this is not part of hearing the normal cases,” Dawkins said. “It’s far too easy in these positions to do nothing, to deal with the cases as they come across. But to actually go looking for more work and a huge amount of work...I can’t emphasize how much work it was to make this thing happen and we owe him a big debt of thanks for that.”
“Before he became a judge and while he was a judge he looked for every opportunity to make a difference and to create programs that help people,” Carmichael said. “We just wanted to continue that and keep those programs going.”
Going on its 10th year is another specialty court that has sought to strengthen Southern Indiana families. Family Recovery Court, overseen by Magistrate Joni Grayson with program coordinator Iris Rubadue, started in 2011.
The program doesn’t deal with criminal cases, but focuses on families where there may be an addiction issue and also that have a Department of Child Services case. The goal is to work with the families for a minimum of nine months, with case managers meeting with families on a regular basis outside of the courthouse.
“We’re trying to get them to a point where they’re sober and able to parent their kids in a sober and safe environment,” Rubadue said. “We don’t have jail and prison time to hang over their head; we’re trying to work to reunite a family here.”
During much of the year, Rubadue said case managers have met with families outside — to help stay safe during COVID-19. And although the Court Avenue office space where they had met with families before the pandemic and hoped to soon return was recently badly damaged in a fire, Grayson said she doesn’t expect the program to miss a beat.
Before COVID, Rubadue said the success rate had been very good for a program of its type that deals with addiction — they had hovered between 10% and 13% success, in line with the state as a whole.
“It’s that level of accountability and support that is really what makes it successful but it’s also the buy-in that you have from your community partners and treatment agencies,” she said. “To me, it’s so important because family is everything.”