Crimewatch: Travis County revamps drug court program - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: Travis County revamps drug court program

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Travis County is revamping its drug court after a study found half of the participants didn't complete the program.

The move also comes after an independent consultant made 45 recommendations to improve drug court.

Deborah Sonier, 42, is going through the program now.

"I was just doing a lot of drugs, living on the streets, ended up messing around selling drugs," said Sonier.

For 25 years, Sonier says she used crack cocaine. But it wasn't until she moved on to heroin that landed her on the wrong side of the law. Her chemical dependency, which was determined by an expert, and felony arrest, made her eligible for Travis County's drug court. It allows Sonier to avoid prosecution and jail time if she finishes the year to year and a half long program. The program is intensive and includes treatment.

District Court Judge, Brenda Kennedy, says her dockets are larger these days and drugs are a big part of that. The goal is helping addicts before they get into more serious crimes.

"It always leads to other things, more serious crimes in the future. If we can address it on the front end, the drug use and the addiction, perhaps it would help on the back end," said Judge Kennedy.

But not just anybody can get in. Defendants can't be drug dealers or have a violent past. They also have to sign a contract with the Travis County District Attorney's office.

Like other growing areas, Judge Kennedy says Travis County has a drug problem. 25 percent of drug cases involve college students.

"Travis County is known for many things and its right up there with football," said Judge Kennedy.

The 403rd District Court judge says treating defendants, however, is no laughing matter.

Getting addicts help is one thing but treatment itself is expensive, even with insurance. Many can't afford it, even with insurance.

"They determine the treatment level despite the fact that we may feel the need is more severe, the insurance company may only pay for outpatient, even though we feel a 90 day or six month of in patient is needed."

Travis County started the drug court in 1993, the second in Texas.

A recent evaluation showed 50 percent of participants didn't complete the program and out of that group, 69 percent were re-arrested.

Dr. Geraldine Nagy is head of the Travis County's Adult Probation Department. She took over the embattled drug court program.

"It was taking up to 75 days to get into drug court and you know with people that are addicted there is a window of opportunity so we would lose a lot of people," said Nagy.

Now, it takes 30 days. Extra counselors were also hired, which means more intensive treatment in house right away. Defendants are now randomly drug tested twice a week.

Deborah Sonier is set to graduate from the program in December. Her journey has not been easy.

"I relapsed a few times," said Sonier.

But she says the program saved her life.

"They've done a lot for my life and if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here today," said Sonier.

When she's done, Sonier says she wants to be a drug counselor, giving back because she has received so much already.

Drug court costs Travis County taxpayers $1.1 million a year.

Dr. Nagy says for every dollar spent, the county saves 2.2 dollars by the person not going through the criminal justice system again.

The drug court meets twice a week on Monday and Wednesday nights.

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