St. Charles Herald-Guide

A way out

By M. Susanne Hinkle - March 29, 2006

Keeping St. Charles Parish a safe community is what the drug court is all about. The highly successful program offers an alternative to jail time.

By offering drug offenders a way to get clean and return to the community as drug-free productive citizens, the program reduces social costs related to substance abuse.

The St. Charles Parish Drug Court began operation November 7, 2001, to offer an alternative to incarceration to non-violent drug offenders. The mission of the Drug Court is to break the cycle of addiction and rehabilitate substance-abusing offenders using governmental agencies and community resources.

“Coersed drug treatment is much more effective than voluntary treatment,” said Judge Emile St. Pierre of the 29th Judicial District Court of St. Charles Parish. Clients who qualify for Drug Court enter a guilty plea to their respective charge and aregiven a suspended jail sentence upon the client's agreement to participate in the Drug Court program.

Drug Court clients are closely monitored by the Drug Court team, consisting of the judge, Drug Court coordinator, an assistant district attorney, a defense attorney, a compliance officer, two probation and parole officers from the Department of Corrections, and the substance abuse treatment provider. Each of the Judges of the 29th Judicial District Court rotates the position of Drug Court Judge annually. Judge Emile R. St. Pierre is currently presiding over the Drug Court.

The intensive program consists of four phases, designed to take anywhere from 15 to 18 months to complete. Such a hands-on approach seems to be working, with 80 percent of the drug court graduates remaining drug-free.

Marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol are are the drugs of choice among many drug court participants. The program requires intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment; attendance of 3 AA or NA meetings each week, regularly scheduled drug screens, and weekly court appearances before the judge. If a client lacks a high school diploma, the client must obtain a GED cetificate and must remain gainfully employed.
The concept behind the Drug Court movement is coerced treatment. The Drug Court recently held their graduation on March 22 at the court house in Hahnville. Graduates of the program were given a chance to express their gratitude to the Drug Court personnel and to their families for all their support as they worked through the program towards graduation. Graduates were given a gift and treated to cake and refreshments in celebration of their personal achievements in the program. "This year we were very excited to see so many families in attendance at the graduation. They were there to support their family member(s) who successfully completed the program," said coordinator Jackie Cristina. "We love to see the families and community involved in the client's rehabilitation," she said.

“This year we had the most graduates since the we first implemented the program in 2001. There were 10 graduates,” said Judge Emile St. Pierre. He added, “We are very proud that we can offer such a beneficial program that offers citizens a way to better themselves. Eighty percent of the graduates from Drug Court remain drug free and have no further altercations with the judicial system,” he said.

Members of the 29th Judicial St. Charles Parish Drug Court from left to right-Judge Emile St. Pierre,Jonnie Dunn, Probation & Parole,Eva Tripkovich,Probation&Parole,Fenwick Swann,III,IDB Attorney,Judge Robert Chaisson,Julie Ruel,Victor E. Bradley,Jr.,IDB
Susanne Hinkle
Members of the 29th Judicial St. Charles Parish Drug Court from left to right-Judge Emile St. Pierre,Jonnie Dunn, Probation & Parole,Eva Tripkovich,Probation&Parole,Fenwick Swann,III,IDB Attorney,Judge Robert Chaisson,Julie Ruel,Victor E. Bradley,Jr.,IDB