GREENE COUNTY, Mo. — It’s a way to hold people accountable for their actions while trying to change behaviors.
Drug courts are becoming more popular across the country.
Rather than throwing non-violent drug offenders behind bars, the drug court program aims to help those struggling get the treatment they need, so they can return to society as law-abiding citizens.
“Everyday when I first get up in the morning, I look at myself and say, ‘Keith, you’re not gonna use today,'” said Drug Court Graduate Keith Byrley. “I graduated Drug Court April 1 of this year.”
Byrley is no stranger to drug addiction.
“All the choices I had made– the bad choices were taking a toll,” he said. “There was nowhere left to go but up. It was time to start healing.”
Heroin wasn’t his drug of choice, but his meth addiction took him to prison six times.
“I was headed back to prison for a ten year sentence– and being my age, it just wasn’t an option,” said Byrley.
That’s what led him to Judge Peggy Davis’s courtroom.
“The thought is, rather than incarcerating people and sending them back out in the community to re-offend, let’s force that population to get treatment and address lifestyle issues that brought them into the justice system with the hope of returning them to the community as sober, law-abiding citizens,” said Greene County Drug Court Commissioner Judge Peggy Davis.
“Drug court is one of the most cost effective, beneficial things we have in the community in regard to criminal justice,” she added. “Drug court does drug testing on everyone twice a week to monitor whether our folks are using– we require treatment.”
Keith spent about 14 months in the program.
“It played a big part of my life,” he said. “Because without having structure in my life, I was all over the place– I was headed back to prison again.”
“A year in the Department of Corrections is probably around $33,000 a year– treatment in drug court runs $4,000 to $4,500,” said Judge Davis. “Our offenders pay a percentage of that, and some of the cost of treatment is money that would be spent on them anyway– we just do it in the community.”
“In prison, you merely exist– you’re in a controlled environment,” said Byrley. “At drug court, I had an option to be free.”
Most people spend, on average, 22-24 months in the program.
“It’s incredibly humbling to watch folks that are an absolute disaster when you first meet them– the meth sores, the inability to communicate, life is falling apart– help them,” said Judge Davis.
There’s a 67-70 percent completion rate for drug courts across the show me state.
“How incredible is that?” said Judge Davis.
Keith has been clean now since February of 2015. Since graduating drug court, he’s even started his own lawn service.
“For me, it’s always been about being acceptable to society and giving back,” he said. “I’ve done so much damage– there’s been people I’ve hurt that I don’t even know and probably won’t ever meet– it’s a big pill to chew. And to be able to give back and to the right thing when no one is looking is a big thing for me — just doing the right thing.”
It’s drug court Keith thanks for bringing him to a life away from addiction.
“Just to get up everyday and walk outside and see the sun or smell the air or rain when it’s coming,” said Byrley. “I can’t tell you how thankful I am for all the people who made that possible– who gave me the chance to self-correct.”
Keith hopes now he can help others do the same.
“Nothing is so bad I ever have to pick up and use again,” he said. “There are resources out there to help you get better, but you’ve gotta make that choice. You’re not alone– there’s others out there– there are people who love you and want to help you.”
Research out of St. Louis shows those who go through drug court save Missouri taxpayers $7 for every dollar spent on the program.