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Judge requests portion of Putnam DATE funds for accountability court

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Judge requests portion of Putnam DATE funds for accountability court

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SHANNON SNEED/Staff Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell is at the podium speaking to Putnam County commissioners about the Circuit’s accountability courts, which primarily is financed by the stateestab

Two months shy of a year since agreeing to set up a committee to decide where Drug Awareness Treatment and Education (DATE) funds should be spent, Putnam County Commissioners are still hearing from organizations the fund was created to support.

On Aug. 21 at a regular BOC meeting, Ocmulgee Circuit Adult Treatment Court administrators, Superior Court Judges Brenda Trammell, Alison Burleson and Amanda Petty requested commissioners earmark approximately $2,000 a month of those funds for a 12-month period to help support the eight counties served in the accountability courts.

Those courts cover Putnam, Baldwin, Greene, Morgan, Jones, Jasper, Hancock and Wilkinson counties.

“We are not asking for anything out of Putnam County budget funds,” Trammell said; “only from the DATE funds.”

According to Georgia statute 15-21-101(b), DATE funds shall be expended solely for drug abuse treatment and education programs relating to controlled substances and/or for the purposes of a drug court division, operating under the influence court division and/or family treatment court division.

Trammell noted that since the Ocmulgee Adult Treatment program’s creation in 2003, administrators have expanded to include a facility on the north end of the circuit as well as begin operating in-house treatment programs.

DATE funds are the cornerstone financing to operate the program, but the judges also seek state grants and other contributions.

Trammell said Morgan, Greene and Baldwin counties give the accountability courts all of its DATE funds, while Hancock County contributes a portion of its DATE funds.

“One thing that is missing is we do not have any contributions from Putnam County. We do have Putnam County persons involved in our drug court program.”

Burleson advised allotting $24,000 a year toward the Ocmulgee Circuit program would save taxpayers money compared to the cost of housing those individuals at the county jail.

Burleson showed commissioners incarceration statistics pulled from seven of the most recent participants from Putnam County.

Together, those participants represented 651 total days of incarceration.

At $35 a day per person, which only covers housing and does not include necessities for women or medications, those days of incarceration cost more than $22,785.

“We know that if you don’t do something to interrupt the use, and to interrupt the crime that is caused by the addiction problem and treat the problem, we are just going to keep repeating the same conduct over and over again which will just cost the community more money,” Burleson said.

Looking back at the 5-year incarceration history in Putnam County for those same participants, Burleson advised that at $35 a day, the total of what those participants cost the county was “up to $42,735 on the conservative end.”

Trammell said that the judicial circuit sees people everyday who are charged with non-violent, drug-related crimes who do not stay any portion of the time they are sentenced to.

“We can ignore them all day long, the fact of the matter is you incarcerate them and it is a revolving door and they’ve got to come back home,” Trammell said.“They are not going anywhere, and when they are turned loose, they’re going to come right back to the population with the same problems to deal with.”

Trammell said the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit has problems and struggles that metropolitan areas don’t have.

Along with homelessness and other issues common to drug addiction, because of the rural population of the Ocmulgee Circuit, those administrators also have to deal with transportation issues.

“We use transit where we can,” Trammell said, noting they also have pickup spots for those with transportation problems.

Describing the program Trammell said the Circuit has 125 people dealing with substance abuse and/or mental health issues participating in the program, while the state requires only about 62.

“We not only have a drug corp., we have a mental health corp.,” Trammell said.

Prior to 2015, the accountability courts conducted its programs with Rivers Edge in Milledgeville.

Trammell said that collaboration didn’t fit because the Ocmulgee Circuit operates from the criminal justice system, so they explored possibilities for, and eventually created, in-house treatment.

Participants are required to obtain a GED and a job before they graduate so The Circuit also operates an aftercare program where they train participants to help them get adjusted to the workforce.

Petty, who had a history in family treatment court before taking the bench January 2017 said she has seen her clients go from being addicts and homeless to working at Geico and having 401Ks.

One of those clients, Putnam County resident James Alford, spoke to commissioners about his success through the treatment program.

When Alford, who is director of Serenity House in Milledgeville, entered the program, he was a Putnam County resident incarcerated in Putnam County.

Alford told commissioners the program is a demanding second chance because if participants don’t do what they’re told to do, when they’re told to do it, they would be back through that revolving door.

Any infractions by participants such as failing a drug test or missing a meeting lands them in jail.

Also part of that revolving door, Alford had been through programs inside the criminal justice system for several years, including time in prison and bootcamp.

“I was nine years old when I started drugs. Now at this day and time, I am free from drug addiction, I am happy and it’s all because of this program,” Alford said. “It’s all because of the belief of these three judges here.”

Alford said he told Judge Trammell from the beginning he “was going to buck on her program” just like he did for prison and everything else.

“But I saw she cared,” Alford said. “I never bucked not one time because she told me right there in the courtroom that ‘I’m going to buck right back.’ And I believed her, I didn’t want to try her.”

Alford advised the program changes people.

“Whether they like it or not, they are going to change,” he said.

Trammell told commissioners that there wasn’t one person sitting in the audience that hadn’t been touched in some way by drug or alcohol addiction.

“You can’t just walk over them as they lay out in front of the courthouse, we have to address the issue at some point,” said Trammel.“The prisons are not big enough and they’re not going to keep them anyway.”

After the judges made their plea to the BOC, Commissioner Trevor Addison noted that according to finance records the DATE fund should have approximately $66,000 by the end of 2019.

If the BOC continues to give Putnam County State Court Judge Michael Gailey $10,000 for the Operating Under the Influence (OUI) court, it would leave $56,000.

A motion last October by Addison was met with a unanimous vote to freeze those funds until Chairman Dr. Steve Hersey could establish a DATE Fund committee.

At the Aug. 21 meeting, Addison pressed Hersey to appoint the DATE Fund Committee so a decision could be made to allot those funds.

“While there was obviously a terrific appeal from the superior court judges for the allocation of money to their drug diversion program, there’s informal request for those funds for educational purposes, to hopefully prevent somebody from being in a circumstance where they would need drug corp.,” said Hersey.

“Also a request from law enforcement treatment of incarcerated individuals that need to be treated because they house drug addicts that need whatever they need to have.”

Commissioner Daniel Brown, who along with Commissioner Alan Foster, has attended graduation ceremonies.

“I highly recommend that a portion of that DATE fund go to support those judges because their programs are working,” said Brown. “When one person is changed, many more down the line in the family is changed and the people they influence. I do look forward to a committee being selected.”

Trammell said they were trying to do their part in seeing that their circuit is not left out of the criminal justice reform program.

“...That our people are able to utilize the funds that have been set aside by legislature that will tack on fines and fees to see that our people get the services that other places like in the metropolitan areas have seen for years.”