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Drug court gets green light

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Fayette County’s drug court is finally ready to begin operations. 

Fayette County Superior Court Judge Paul L. Freed had the happy news Thursday afternoon. He and his staff have been ready to go for about six weeks. A staffing change at the Indiana Supreme Court delayed certification, which has now been received.

The staff held its first conference Thursday morning and the first court session will be in just under two weeks. Along with Freed, the staff includes a deputy prosecutor and an investigator. Their offices will be on the second floor of the county courthouse.

Freed said the court has been contacted by criminal defense lawyers who believe they have good candidates for the program. The drug court’s advisory board, composed of the court’s staff and local law enforcement officials, will review each case and decide who might be admitted.

The court has been set up to help people whose drug habits have resulted in criminal activity, Freed said. Rather than sending them through traditional prison, probation or work-release programs, the drug court will sentence them to intensely supervised living, including keeping jobs and submitting to regular drug tests. The idea is to return people to productive, non-criminal, drug-free lives.

“We are looking for the ones who most need the help,” Freed said. The court will evaluate each candidate using a psychological test. Scores will help the drug court staff rate each on the basis of how likely they are to go back to drug use and criminal activity. Admission will be based on those scores along with other factors and staff evaluations.

Up to nine criminal defendants may be initially qualified to participate. They will appear in open court on Sept. 27 to hear Freed explain the workings and expectations of the drug court. Those who agree to the terms will work with the staff, which reports to Freed. Participants then come back each week to speak in court about his or her progress.