"Working together," Greene establishes first-ever drug court

From left, Christine Gardner, court assistant for program development; Pamela Mason, deputy court administrator; Sheila Rode, court administrator; and Craig Wise, director of probation and parole, are four members of Greene County Drug Court’s planning committee.

A state grant will provide Greene County residents charged with certain drug or drug-related crimes a chance at rehabilitation through a county drug court.

Chris Gardner, court assistant for program development in Greene County, said she came out of retirement four years ago to apply for the $150,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).

“This drug court matters. It’s going to give people back their lives,” Gardner said. “There is no downside to this effort as each person who graduates from the program is a life restored.”

The court will be an option for those defendants who’ve been charged both with drug crimes and crimes, like theft, that are committed to support a drug habit. Participation and successful completion can help defendants both change the trajectory of their lives and avoid incarceration.

The program is an opportunity sorely needed for those facing drug charges in Greene.

The program, said Gardner, will offer defendants a chance to change those sobering rates, but it will require work and dedication on the parts of those who are admitted.

“This isn’t a free ride. This is work. It is a rigid program,” Gardner said. “If you’re really sincere about wanting your life back, put in the work.”

The Greene County Drug Court has a planning committee of 11 members, plus Gardner. About half of these members will make up a drug court team, meeting weekly with the participants.

President Judge Farley Toothman said participants will be under “intensive supervision,” which includes frequent drug testing, court appearances and treatment services.

“The level of supervision supports the recovery process, but also allows supervisors to react swiftly when participants cannot comply,” Toothman said.

Possible punishment for missing a check-in or using again includes 10 hours of community service or 48 hours in jail. Non-compliance could also result in removal back to the traditional court system.

Toothman said the program will also offer rewards for good behavior such as gift cards.

The program will “start small,” Toothman said, with five to 10 participants, whose cases he will review with the probation office before admission. The program will take 18-24 months to complete, followed by two years of case management follow-ups.

The grant application noted the county’s intention to partner with organizations to tackle other issues such as unemployment, lack of transportation and poverty.

When she initially applied for the drug court funding, Gardner said Greene was denied because its population is so small. Undeterred, she turned her efforts to establishing programs and resources from within the county. In the years since returning from retirement, Gardner has spearheaded programs such as Coalition for a Brighter Greene and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). The county also set up drug education programs in the schools and drug reentry fairs for former inmates.

Now that the county has secured funding, Gardner said she hopes the drug court will get its footing, and expand.

“I can see this morphing into not only a criminal court, but family court somehow,” she said. “I can see this growing long after I’m gone.”

Last week, the planning committee met to set up a draft handbook for program participants, based off other county drug courts. The committee also planned training sessions for the team.

Gardner said the planning committee has already developed a community resource list for program participants and will continue to meet biweekly until the January trainings to finalize the handbook and weekly dates for drug court team members to meet with program participants.

“We should then be ready to roll out first drug court with participants by mid-February or March 1,” Gardner said. “We are slowing the steps down to ensure a quality start to the effort and ... to ensure the sustainability of the project.”

“My goal in all this...I would love to see (Greene County) drug free,” Gardner said. “Why can’t we have a community that’s drug free? Why can’t we have better?”

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