Submitted by Judge Kathryn Loring
In response to interest from the legal community, in the winter of 2018, San Juan County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring convened a working group to investigate a therapeutic/drug court for San Juan County. After working together for many months, and with the help of drug court representatives in neighboring Island and Skagit counties, San Juan County law and justice participants committed to piloting a drug court for two years.
The Drug Court Team — comprised of representatives from the San Juan County Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, public defender, district court probation, superior court and Compass Health — officially launched the San Juan County Drug Court in January 2019. District court probation officer Brad Fincher serves as drug court case manager. Superior court administrator Jane Severin serves as drug court coordinator. One participant has enrolled in the program and is currently engaged in inpatient treatment.
Therapeutic courts are encouraged by the state Legislature as a way to address underlying issues contributing to criminal activity, including in particular chemical dependency and mental health challenges. To address those contributing factors in qualifying cases (usually drug possession or property crime charges), drug court suspends the traditional criminal case track while the individual engages in an intensive process including frequent court appearances, treatment, supervision and ultimately attaining further education and/or employment to support stability moving forward.
“We hope that through the intensive treatment and accountability provided by drug court, individuals facing serious criminal charges can gain tools to overcome addictions that are contributing to criminal behavior, with the ultimate goals being to increase public health and safety, and to permanently improve the participants’ lives,” commented Judge Loring.
Drug courts have been shown to decrease recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend), increase community safety and improve the life of the program participant, including through the dismissal or reduction of the underlying criminal charge upon graduation. Therapeutic courts can be funded through a 0.1 percent sales tax for chemical dependency and mental health services, which San Juan County adopted in 2008.
Prosecutor Randall Gaylord said that the prosecutor’s office is excited to participate in drug court.
“We welcome every effort to get to the root problem of crime. We think drug court is another tool that will help keep the community safe while also holding offenders accountable. We appreciate the efforts of Judge Loring in spearheading this project,” said Gaylord.
Public Defender Colleen Kenimond commented: “In my career, I have participated in drug courts both as a defender and as a prosecutor. As a defender, I see drug court as the best hope for many of my clients. As a former prosecutor, I can attest to the real successes for participants. I applaud San Juan County for its commitment to the members of our community who need this highly structured support.”