City Drug Court celebrates National Drug Court Month

The Dunkirk City Treatment Court recently celebrated National Drug Court Month at the Court’s graduation/open house in the Dunkirk City Courtroom in City Hall. The ceremony honored the five graduates who completed their rigorous recovery program and recognized 16 current participants who advanced through the mandated phases. The theme of this year’s National campaign is “Drug Courts: A Proven Budget Solution.”

Since the start of the treatment court in Dunkirk in 2002, more than 250 individuals have been enrolled in the program. Since 1989, more than 2,700 drug courts have been implemented throughout the United States. They also exist in a number of other countries. Throughout this time, more than 1 million individuals with substance abuse problems have been served.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 75 percent of successful Drug Court graduates are never arrested again, and treatment Courts are considered the nation’s most effective strategy in reducing re-arrests, especially among drug addicted offenders. Studies have demonstrated sizable cost savings – up to $13,000 for each successful graduate. Graduates are employed, paying any child care expenses, no longer on public assistance, are not incarcerated, and are law abiding productive citizens.

The Dunkirk treatment program works with individuals, including veterans, who have alcohol, drug and/or mental health problems and simultaneously a criminal charge. Each graduate gave a short speech to the assembled audience.

The Drug Court treatment model seeks to break the chains of abuse by providing a holistic team approach which enables individuals to change their lives. This is not easy or quick for defendants to do. Judge Walter Drag typically uses country music, flowers, and folklore to stress the components of recovery to those in attendance. The featured country artist was Justin Moore, who brought his “Outlaws Like Me” tour to Erie and will be reappearing in Little Valley this summer. Judge Drag used quotations from a number of his songs in talking about the expectation of staying the same and the possibility of change. The tulip was the flower used as an analogy to being planted and change occurring and leading to spring blooms.

The Dunkirk City Treat-ment Court offers this alternative handling of criminal cases not only to defendants in City Court but also all town and village courts of Northern Chautauqua County and Chautauqua County Court in Mayville. Judge Drag has presided in the Treatment Court since its beginning.

In addition to the participants who graduated and moved in phase advancement, a “Beacon of Hope” award was presented to Marcia Kieffer, the Director of the Chautauqua County Alcohol and Substance Abuse Clinic. The award is given to a person who has shown a deep personal commitment to helping the participants work a recovery program. A framed print of the Dunkirk Historical Light-house is presented to the recipient since the lighthouse offers a “beacon of hope” to those lost in addiction, similar to a ship enveloped by darkness or fog on the lake.

The guest speaker was Steven Wickmark, who is the Assistant District Attorney assigned to both the Dunkirk and Jamestown Treatment Court teams. He is a former Commissioner of Social Services for Chautauqua County and has worked as an attorney on issues involving children and families for more than 28 years. State Assembly-man Andrew Goodell also talked to the graduates about the meaning of this step in their life.

Flowers and cards were given to the four SUNY Fredonia students who interned in Dunkirk City Court this spring semester. The court has hosted interns since 2001. More than 40 students have worked with both the regular part and treatment parts of the court over the years. The interns this semester were Declan Gunovski, Carrie McCaus-land, Amanda Spagnuolo, and Chrissy Woods.

Judge Drag concluded, “The good news is that people can and do change sometimes in spite of tremendous odds against them. That is why we hold graduations and open houses to bear witness to the courage and success of those completing the program. It also offers encouragement to those in the program and to those considering it.”

A brunch reception followed the court proceedings.