BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
BOUNTIFUL – Help and accountability can sometimes deter crime better than punishment.
That’s the philosophy behind Davis County’s drug and mental health courts, which monitor and guide non-violent offenders into rehabilitating their lives rather than throwing them in jail.
Offenders in both courts are required to check in regularly, making sure that they stay clean, employed, and on their medications.
“Before, we would have a lot of repeat offenders,” said 2nd District Court Judge Glen Dawson, speaking to the Bountiful Rotary. “The first time we would offer probation and treatment, then about three months later they would be in front of me again.”
Each appearance only continued the cycle.
“I would send them to jail for 30 days to see if they could dry out, but they would undoubtedly be in front of me three months later,” he said. “It didn’t ever work.”
The drug court, which was developed first, breaks the cycle by requiring those in the program to meet weekly with their judge and other court personnel. The court also requires the offender to participate in regular drug tests.
Thanks to the program, rates of repeat offenders went down in the county. Dawson, who served as the drug court judge for five years, saw the effectiveness of the drug court firsthand.
“I would know whether the person was holding down a job, staying in a safe residence and still on treatment,” he said. “When someone holds you accountable, it seems to go well.”
Inspired by the success of the drug court, Davis County started a mental health court three years ago. Like the drug court, the mental health court only takes non-violent offenders and those who haven’t been convicted of a sexual crime.
“When I see them each week, I’ll know they’ve been taking their meds, going to a therapist, and going to their job,” said Dawson. “If they don’t have one, we’ll help them get one. We want to help them build a better life.”
The court is currently working with approximately 20 different offenders. Due to funding, all those currently involved in the program are either bipolar, schizophrenic, or schizoaffective.
“We need to take major steps to address these folks earlier in the process,” said Dawson. “We need to move to more acceptance as a society that it’s OK to have mental illness and it’s OK to get treatment for a mental illness.”
For now, though, the mental health court is doing what it can.
“I’m grateful we get to help people instead of just throw them in jail,” said Dawson “We have to do that a lot in the justice system.”