“Save a Child, Save a Family, Save a Community ….. Save $2 million”
According to the Clark County Coroner's office, every 3.8 days a person under the age of 30 dies from a drug overdose. Forty- one of Las Vegas’ youths have died in the last six months.
The local newspaper reported in June of 2012, that young heroin addicts, ages 18 to 25, were turning up at detox centers with increasing frequency in recent years. More than 60% of total detox admissions are under the age of 30. The Las Vegas community faced a dilemma with very few answers. One answer was the Youth Offender Drug Court (Y.O. Court).
The Las Vegas Municipal Court, Y.O. Drug Court is a specialty court, focusing on helping youthful offenders between ages 18 and 24, who have been diagnosed with the disease of substance dependence and have found their way to the judicial system because of crimes committed while in their active addiction. The Court emphasizes participants and their families becoming productive and healthy members of their community. The court was created by Judge Cedric Kerns in 2010. He established “Y.O. Drug Court” in order to intervene earlier in the cycle of self destructive behaviors.
The cost of addiction in the Las Vegas community is impossible to fully calculate. What we can calculate is the cost of incarceration; to house one defendant in the local jail for a six month period. This costs the tax payers of the city of Las Vegas an estimated $27,000. The cost to the taxpayers for each Y.O. Drug Court participant for the same period of time is $2,933. YO Court typically lasts 18 months and effectively reduces a host of hard and soft costs community wide. Undoubtedly, the most negative effect is not the financial cost to the community for each incarceration, hospital visit, or public service, but the hidden, lost opportunity cost from an individual that would otherwise contribute to his or her community in a positive way. This cost is incalculable. “If the community truly understood in their fullness, the compounding positive effects on public health, safety and financial solvency, by doing what truly works (collaborative, community-wide focus on target populations), vs. what feels good traditionally (“bars and bullets”), the public would fund such programming before any other traditional measure.” Matthew Fisk, Las Vegas Court Administrator 2012, A STRATEGIC COLLABORATION OF SCIENCE AND LAW FOR A HEALTHY AND SAFE COMMUNITY
Graduation from Y.O. Drug Court is meaningful and a high honor to achieve. When the individual graduates, they will possess either a High School Diploma or a G.E.D.; employment or an appropriate means of self sufficiency; the tools to remain clean and sober; and a family better equipped to address the issues of the loved one suffering from the disease of substance dependence. What sets the Y.O. Drug Court apart from other specialty courts is the mandated participation of the family members and significant others as well as the community partnerships established to maintain sustainability.
Crucial to the success of the program is being able to communicate effectively with all parties involved. Y.O. Drug Court leverages the genuine interests of its participants by communicating with them by their preferred means; texting, social media, email, mobile phone, websites, etc.
Y.O. Drug Court includes participants, their families, community partners and court staff. When not face to face, they all communicate in the preferred “lingo” (language) of the participants; that is electronically. As with all specialty courts, immediate and consistent sanctions; positive and negative alike are imperative for success. This technology enables effective communication, thus allowing the programmatic focus to be on “people, rather than paper.”
The court utilizes the following modern and user-friendly technology to allocate staff resources to provide more value-added activities, and strengthen group cohesiveness and accountability:
- Microsoft SharePoint Extranet Website
- Texting services
- Social media
- Electronic monitoring devices
- Cell phones
- Electronic ankle bracelets that have GPS units for monitoring location of offenders; some with alcohol monitoring units
- Stationary phone devices in the home that randomly call offenders and breathalyses to check for alcohol.
- Vehicle ignition interlock devices with breathalyzers to inhibit intoxicated driving
- Audio and video equipment for production of digital scrapbooks
- Automated case management system
City of Las Vegas Information Technologies (I.T.) Staff created the website using existing Microsoft SharePoint services at no cost to the Municipal Court. Because the site is easy to use and maintain, the Court staff can update the site themselves without having to rely on I.T. staff. To facilitate communications, a website using Microsoft SharePoint technology was created using existing staff, in order to eliminate additional expenses to the court. In fact, because personal accountability is paramount, it is each participant’s duty to check the website daily and before every activity. This saves the Court and community hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time, which would otherwise be devoted to phone calls and other types of correspondence along with labor and time intensive follow-up due to miscommunication. Using this technology, City of Las Vegas Staff were able to create a calendar of events where everyone in the program can see events such as court dates/times, community events, classes, etc. The youth offenders and their families also have access to a private forum on the site where they can stay in contact with the Y.O. Drug Court team. Being able to stay in contact or share information 24x7x365 is key to ensuring that miscommunication does not result in a setback.
Other technological advents, which support and enhance the program are cell phones equipped with social media applications that will give a person’s live physical coordinates, phones/tablets enabled with three- way phone call capabilities, texting services, two-way audio/video applications and electronic monitoring software enable real-time communication and action.
Today’s economy and limited budget resources have forced the court to rely heavily on technological, family and community support for activities and incentives. Activities required of all participants include substance abuse counseling, community based recovery meetings, banking classes, health classes, community service projects, and much more. Incentives include picnics, bus passes, leadership camps, plays, baseball games, movies, shows, boat races, dental work, rent assistance, paint ball and family events. Much of this is donated by community partners.
- The court has not only shown a vast improvement in the health of the participants, it has also shown a vast improvement in the health of the enabling family members.
- The program improves economic vitality by helping to drastically reduce the cost to the community and returning a healthy individual that is able to contribute in positive ways.
- The court utilizes a unique organizational design by partnering with the parents and creating a working committee of peers that have real input and buy into the program.
- Long-lasting partnerships are built between not only the youth, parents, and peers, but also with the community partners that offer counseling and other needed services.
The reward comes when offenders, who have successfully completed the program, return and are healthier and more productive. So far, there have been 24 graduates of the program. Some have quit, opting instead for jail time. Others have faltered, but most are going to school, starting families and working. Even those who have failed the program by refusing to follow the rules still send greeting cards, photos and other messages to Judge Kerns and court staff, thanking them for taking an interest in their recovery. Judge Kerns, court staff and community partners are so passionate about the program and offenders that they take time from their personal schedules to do community events and social events with the participants including the final graduation ceremony.
Edward K, 24, graduated from the program after battling a heroin addiction. "It's not easy every day," Edward said. "But I didn't want to go back to what I was doing. It was miserable. So I applied what they taught me, incorporated it into my life. It's phenomenal." Now Edward and his fiancée have their own home, have a healthy and happy baby boy, and Edward has a 4.0 G.P.A in college."YO Court gave me the foundation to be the man I am today," Edward said. "It gave me the tools necessary to be able to call myself a man. It's given me integrity and respect. I hold my head up high, and I take care of my family."
The City continually searches for new ways to enhance the program to save the lives of this young adult community. Through Judge Kerns’ passion and that of his staff for the program, along with the Court’s partnership with parents, peers, community partners, counselors, and businesses, the program has become a huge success and a model for other court programs.
For more information, please visit yocourt.org.