Weekly Columns

Reality TV programs draw a large audience who like to follow the lives, jobs, and troubles of others. Watching this drama unfold on TV is often something we don’t want to experience ourselves. Take for instance Last Shot with Judge Gunn. This nationally televised show filmed in Fayetteville features Judge Mary Ann Gunn offering drug-addicted offenders an alternative to jail time in what is known as Drug Court. 

Through her years of service as a District Court Judge, Gunn has worked to rehabilitate hundreds of people through her strict program that has become a model of how effective drug courts can be. As we face a growing population of drug-addicted offenders in the American justice system, we must expand our efforts to bring treatment to a larger number of those in need and drug courts are a cost effective approach that have had a positive impact on public safety. 

May is recognized as National Drug Court Month. We highlight the impact this alternative approach to drug and substance abuse has on our communities and celebrate the success stories of participants. Throughout Arkansas, 61 court programs target drug and substance abuse for people of all ages and we’re expanding outreach to veterans. 

Our veterans face an all too familiar pattern; having done well in military service, many leave suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or other conditions. As a result, they too often turn to alcohol and or drugs. One in six veterans who served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from a substance abuse problem. 

Fortunately we’re creating opportunities that can help break this cycle. The Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) is an intense, structured program that requires regular court appearances, as well as mandatory attendance at Veterans’ Affairs treatment and counseling sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use. If they complete the rigorous program, veterans can have their record corrected, expunged or withdrawn. 

Arkansas has been a leader on this front. Our state launched the first rural VTC in January of 2010 in Lonoke County under the guidance of Judge Phillip Whiteaker. 

The success of the Lonoke County VTC was an encouraging sign. Pulaski and Perry Counties partnered to establish a VTC in late 2010 with a large veteran population. Nearly 80 veterans have participated in the program with 40 graduates thus far. Washington County also started a VTC and participation continues to increase. 

I have seen firsthand the impact of the drug courts in Arkansas, but more importantly Arkansans suffering from drug and alcohol abuse who have received the treatment and services they need to turn their lives around. Arkansas has one of the highest success rates of graduates of the drug court program with more than 92 percent in 2011. 

This approach to addressing drug and alcohol abuse works. We have a great opportunity to continue these programs and I will continue to fight for funding to help this tool of the justice system. These programs improve public safety, save taxpayer dollars and, most importantly, save lives.