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Centre drug court receives $400,000 grant

Rehabilitation program expected to be fully operational by January 2018

BELLEFONTE — The new Centre County Drug Court is one major step closer to being fully operational.

During the Tuesday, Oct. 3 meeting of the Centre County Board of Commissioners, it was announced that the county has received a $400,000 grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Centre County Drug and Alcohol came before the commissioners in January, seeking support to apply for the grant, which had an application deadline of Feb. 28.

According to Cathy Arbogast, assistant administrator of Centre County Drug and Alcohol, the grant funding is effective Oct. 1, 2017 through Sept. 30, 2020. The county match for the grant is $133,493. The commissioners unanimously accepted the grant and the county match at the Tuesday meeting.

With plans to have the new adult drug court fully operational in January 2018, the grant funding comes just in time to get the court up and running.

“Having this grant really allows us to take a step back, not worry about the funding for a few minutes and get this off the ground, show a level of effectiveness, show some good outcomes and begin planning for where we will be three years from now when the program is truly operational, and, we believe, will demonstrate the importance of continuing this project,” Arbogast said.

The funds from the grant will be used toward operational and treatment expenses. Among operational expenses it will fund, Arbogast explained, are two staff positions, one in the probation office and the other in the drug and alcohol office. The drug court team, led by Centre County President Judge Pamela Ruest, will include probation representatives, drug and alcohol case managers, and representatives from both the prosecution and defense.

Once the program begins, there will be approximately 25 individuals with substance use disorders participating, Arbogast said.

The plan for the court, which will take on a therapeutic public health approach to the county’s heroin and opioid crisis, is to start with probation and parole violators who are considered non-violent offenders but have had difficulty maintaining recovery from their substance use disorders. Arbogast said these offenders have the highest risk of reoffending, in addition to the highest need for support. The program will use both incentives to encourage positive behaviors, and sanctions, or penalties, to hold individuals accountable to expectations of the program.

During a series of town hall meetings that were held last year to address the heroin and opioid crisis, President Judge Ruest said the program will help reduce relapses and help former drug users become productive members of society. The program will require biweekly visits before Ruest so that each participant is held accountable for how they have been doing, and there will be intensive supervision by probation and parole, supervision which will include random drug testing at least three times each week.

There will also be a comprehensive drug and alcohol assessment tool used to determine the extent of each participant’s drug and/or alcohol abuse, coexisting problems and readiness for treatment. The program will determine needed community resources and provide access to treatment services that are based upon each participant’s unique needs.

“If we implement this correctly, we can help upwards of maybe a dozen to two dozen people at the same time,” said Commissioner Mark Higgins. “Move them out of the correctional facility and integrate them into the community much more quickly, which helps a dozen to two dozen families every couple of years and reduces expenses at the correctional facility.”

In 2009, the county was awarded a similar grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a grant which was used to help fund the start of the county’s DUI court program. Arbogast previously said that the DUI program has proven to be very successful.

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