By Steve Tool
Wallowa County Chieftain
Last in a series
Wallowa County’s Treatment Court is similar to district court. A judge dressed in robes sits on the bench and one or both district attorneys sit at the prosecutor’s table.
The remainder of the bar is filled with members of the treatment court team. The people in treatment sit in the gallery. Around 10 people participate weekly.
As the participants’ names are called and they stand, they begin by telling the group how many days of sobriety they’ve maintained. Whether it’s seven or 300 days, applause is genuine and heartfelt.
The judge asks them how their week went. It isn’t small talk, he cares and wants to know. Sometimes the participant had a good week. Other times they tell of their struggles with everyday life that threaten their sobriety.
Everyone is empathetic offering helpful suggestions and directing them to where they can receive help.
It’s not all rosy, though. Woe to them who are untruthful or don’t follow protocol. At times, treatment counselors report missed sessions or participants fail to bring in a note saying they completed an assigned task.
One woman is assigned extra peer group meetings for failure to attend those assigned. Another receives several days of community work service for using her prescription drugs out of turn.
Even after punishment is meted, however, the last words they hear are encouragement. Treatment court ends in about a half-hour, always on a positive note, with many of the program participants leaving with a smile on their faces.
Judge Thomas Powers, a fairly recent addition to the circuit court bench, sees the program as a huge benefit to the legal system and to participants.
Powers said that training includes a nation-wide three-day conference of the National Association of Drug Treatment Court Professionals that includes intensive workshops, skills training and various expert lectures.
Judicial conferences within Oregon generally include a specialty court section that addresses treatment court.
Heather Rutherford, a circuit court employee, also serves as the court’s coordinator, a position she held as a fill-in at Union County Circuit Court. She’s served in the program since 2012.
She gathers all the information, including that of the participants, and puts it in packets for those on the team.
She is also active in the intake process, including compiling personal histories. She also receives weekly reports, which include how a participant’s week went, along with urinalysis results. She tracks all the paperwork and keeps it organized.
Both Powers and Rutherford consider the program a success.
“We take a lot of pride in our success rate,” Powers said. He added that he looks at success on two levels: The number of people who enter the program and graduate and how those graduates fare after they leave the program.
“If you successfully complete the program and graduate, there’s an assumption that you’ve got the support network and tools and skills, to be successful outside of the program,” he said.
Powers said he enjoys seeing the positive changes many participants make after coming to the program either fresh out of detox or still strung out.
“Eighteen months later, they’re clean and sober, they have a GED and stable employment,” he said.
He noted the program helps participants with wraparound services that assist with housing, child-care and other amenities, as do the peer support groups.
“People who come in are often here because the only peer group they have are other users or dealers,” he said. “For many, it’s the first time in years they’ve been surrounded by people who want to support their sobriety rather than enable it, and that makes a huge difference.”
“I think it’s very much a success,” she said. “I think a lot of the graduates remain successful, and I think it’s great when they can show their family and kids a clean and sober self, and that’s huge.”
Like the DA’s office, both Rutherford and Powers said that their favorite thing about the program is seeing people succeed.
“I have a soft spot for –– whether it’s a male or female participant –– those who have kids,” Powers said. “To hear the stories of them being able to be sober parents to their kids.”
Rutherford added she enjoys children finding a new definition of normal in their lives.
The judge said that the only changes he’d like to see in the program are a defense attorney for those participants who admit to extra-legal activities. Housing is also a concern.
“This program makes a lot of demands on people,” Powers said. “They go to NA and AA meetings, individual and group therapy sessions, behavioral modification classes, jobs, community service and the treatment court itself. You need the stable platform of a place to live to pull that off.”
“If anyone thinks this is a loosey-goosey kind of program, they need to understand that it gets the results that benefit everyone. There’s a big benefit to the community in the end-product,” he added.