Napa County Drug Court: Hope, Redemption and Accountability
by Cara Mae Wooledge, MPH
“I was miserable,” said Ronald K., when asked what his life was like before Napa County Drug Court. “I was a criminal, just running my life in circles, not really getting anywhere. And it all revolved around drugs. It’s a miserable lifestyle.”
After “getting busted” last year for a second-degree burglary, which was his fifty-seventh “event” involving the law, Ronald was in the Napa County jail, most likely on his way back to prison, when a fellow inmate recommended the Drug Court program.
“I chose Drug Court because I needed more discipline. It’s one of the better, if not the best, decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Ronald. “To be honest, this really isn’t that hard of a program, if you’re willing. I came into it very openminded, and I wanted it. Now here I am graduating. I broke all the records and had no problems what so ever.”
Napa County Drug Court follows national standards and evidence-based practices based on ten key components to help people with addiction to alcohol and drugs in the criminal justice system by giving them the opportunity for treatment and recovery instead of incarceration.
People with criminal cases are referred to Napa County Drug Court program through a wide community network. The first step is screening for substance use disorder. Next, potential clients receive information on the way Drug Court works, and how it can help them. Finally, it is up to the individual to commit to this path for a minimum of 15 months for approval to become a Drug Court client.
The program has five phases, which consist of different levels of requirements, including weekly court appearances, drug/alcohol testing and treatment, 12 Step meetings and additional meetings with the Drug Court Case Manager and Probation. The goal is clients will complete Drug Court within 18 months.
The Napa County Drug Court team has a multidisciplinary “all-star” bench, which includes Judge Scott Young, Napa County Health and Human Services Agency Alcohol and Drug Division Case Manager Eddie Flores, Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind, Public Defender Sang Nguyen and Probation Officer Ken Stevenson. But it doesn’t stop there.
“When we bring a client in, they have a clinical assessment,” said Drug Court Case Manager Eddie Flores. “If it’s identified that they have mental health issues or a medical condition that has been neglected, we get them the help they need. We have all the partners in place to streamline services.”
“We’re looking at the whole person, not just the drugs and alcohol,” said Mr. Flores. This also includes help with housing, job hunting and other social determinants of health that will improve a client’s chance at recovery from addiction.
“Drug Court started in Napa County in 1999 with the goal of balancing community safety and accountability with public health and wellbeing,” said Judge Scott Young. Since 1999, 430 people have enrolled and 247 have successfully completed Drug Court in Napa County. “Drug Court is a team, and everyone is invested in the outcome.”
“Seeing the positive outcomes of Drug Court is one of the best parts of my job,” said Judge Young.
What is it like from the other side of the bench? “The Drug Court is a totally different experience than other courtrooms,” said Ronald. “People in the program make mistakes, and there are repercussions, but they’re not thrown out. The Drug Court team brings them back in with a positive attitude. It’s amazing how far you can go with a little bit of positive input.”
When Drug Court is in session at the Napa County Superior Court, clients approach the podium one at a time for their weekly “check in” to see how their lives are progressing. They are all greeted with applause and speak directly to Judge Young, and the other Drug Court team members present in the courtroom. Praise is freely provided. However, consequences can be implemented when necessary.
“We don’t want to put people in jail,” said Judge Young. “We want to see people reengage with the community, develop positive relationships, get jobs and take care of their families.”
According to Ronald, the best the about Drug Court was “the positive reinforcement”.
“If you’re doing what you need to do, they have nothing but good things to say to you,” said Ronald. “In the courtroom environment, that is not something I was used to.”
About life after Drug Court, Ronald said, “Now I have freedom, I have happiness and love in my life. All the doors are open for me that I want to go through. I’m not a threat to my community anymore, I can be a part of it.”
Ronald’s plans after graduating from Drug Court include continuing his 12 Step meetings, which he enjoys, and helping current Drug Court clients. “I just want to stay connected,” said Ronald.
To people out there struggling with addiction in the criminal justice system that have the opportunity to choose Drug Court, Ronald said, “Jump into it with both feet and an open mind. You’re worth it.”
For more information on Napa County Drug Court, contact Drug Court Case Manager Eddie Flores at (707) 253-4767.