By Patrick Yost
When the Adult Treatment Court Collaborative (ACCT), known by law enforcement, participants and prosecutors as “drug court” was trying gain purchase in 2015, the innovative approach the drug epidemic was taking what it could get.
“We would hold classes were we could,” says Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammell, long a backer of the program.
The court, which basically offers first time drug offenders the opportunity to undergo a rigid mental health and substance abuse counseling along with anger management skills instead of jail, started in this northern region with seven participants. “They teach them to respond in another way,” says Trammell. “In the past, it would lead them to use.”
It is now working with more than 75 and was doing so wherever they could find space at the Morgan County Public Safety Center under the supervision of Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley. “He has been very good about allowing us to use space,” says Trammell.
“But,” she adds, “we are exploding at the seams.”
No more. Between a collaborative effort of the Morgan County Hospital Authority, local businessman Pat Reams, Sheriff Markley and others the “drug court” has a new, and possible permanent home. On Tuesday, hospital authority members, judges and others gathered to cut the ribbon on the court’s new home, an outbuilding at the old Morgan Memorial Hospital.
Reams approached the hospital authority with the idea of giving the court use of the vacant building for the program. Morgan County Hospital Authority Chairman John Moore says he liked the idea. “Right now its sitting empty and could be used to help the community,” he says.
After the authority agreed Reams, who has a construction business among other interests, got busy. Using his experience and crews along with drug court participant labor and inmate labor from the Morgan County Detention Center, the building has been transformed in two weeks and is now ready to serve. “Even if they save one person it’s worth doing,” says Reams. “For that reason, we needed to get it ready for them.”
The building now has new paint, new flooring, furniture from Reams’ warehouse, meeting rooms, counseling rooms and impressive landscaping after Willow Oak Landscaping donated plants at cost. Last week Trammell and drug court participants were putting the plants in the ground around the building.NuArt Printing provided signage for the building.
Everybody asked participated, says Trammell.
Reams agrees. “We had a need in the community,” he says. “She asked for help and we stepped up.”
The court will have use of the building on a month-to-month basis free of charge and will provide a consistent and efficient meeting place for offenders working through the program.It’s a program Sheriff Markley was happy to assist. “We’ve supported it since its inception. It takes first time offenders and gives them an opportunity to get drug free, get a job and get some life skills to get back on track.”
“Once you send them off to prison what you get back is much more difficult to work with,” Markley says.
Trammel says the collaborative nature of solving the court’s problem mirrors the nature of the program. Drug court participant Sharon Garner, who last week was planting shrubs outside the new building, agrees. “It gives us a permanent place,” she says. “We are already a family.”
Garner is set to graduate from the program in July after a 18 months of counseling and work.
Trammel says the program that “started on a shoe string” will now have the room to serve more participants. “Our space constrained us from doing what we needed to do,” she says, with a shovel in her hand and mud on her tennis shoes.
“I think its God working in a wonderful way.”