Jackson County drug court makes case for proposed statewide expansion

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri Governor Mike Parson wants to call a special legislative session, and one of the things he wants to tackle is expanding the drug court treatment program.

Jackson County has one of the longest running drug courts in the nation and it’s helping make a case for why such programs should be expanded.

More than 1,200 people are graduates of Jackson County’s drug treatment court, which has been running for 25 years and will host its 150th graduation this year.  The vast majority of participants stay clean and out of trouble, in turn helping save communities, families, and tax dollars.

Tara is a proud mom of three, including 6-week-old baby Vincent.  But her life hasn't always been so picture perfect. After having a stillborn baby, she sunk into a deep depression and drug use.

“It took over my life. Went from having nice house, owning my own car, having full custody of my kids, to losing it all,” said Tara.

Losing custody of her daughter was the wake-up call she needed to change.

“Marijuana and methamphetamine led me to where I was, but thank God for drug court because I would not have ended up where I am today. I am over a year sober,” Tara said.

Tara's already completed Missouri drug court and in less than two weeks graduates from municipal drug court. She says the program completely changed her life for the better and gave her the skills to succeed.

“I’m now back to where I’m financially stable. I’ve became a way better mom thanks to my people there, and I used to think they were my enemies. And they became the biggest supporters,” she said.

David Fry calls leading Jackson County's drug court program the best job in the world. Prosecutors pick cases referred to drug court and those picked choose if they want to go through the program.

“We don't support the problem.  We start addressing it,” said Fry, Jackson County Drug Court commissioner.

Participants like Tara complete a full year program. They've got to stay clean at least 180 days straight, complete community service, pay court fees, and get a job.

In Jackson County, when they graduate, the drug offense is wiped off their record. Fry is thrilled Gov. Parson wants the legislature to consider expanding drug courts statewide.

“If you’re going to restore someone and enter them back into the community, this is the best program that you’ve got,” Fry said.

Jackson County's drug court boasts over a 95 percent success rate, meaning people who finish, don't commit another crime for five years. That’s higher than the national average of about 70 percent success rate through drug courts. And at $2,500 a person, it's lots cheaper than $25,000 to send them to prison for a year, where an average of 70 percent of people end up back in the criminal justice system within five years.

As for Tara, she’s working, raising her three children, and is enrolled to begin cosmetology school in October.