Drug Court Stays Connected Despite Social Distancing
By Csaba Sukosd | April 13, 2019
As staffing and services at courts throughout the state are drastically reduced to limit exposure during the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), many nonessential programs have been postponed. Fortunately, courts are using creative measures to help some of the criminal justice system's most vulnerable people: drug court participants.
In Franklin County, municipal court Judge Jodi Thomas and her staff have kept tabs on the more than 100 people participating in HART, which stands for helping achieve recovery together. Topics of conversation vary between participants, but currently they include accomplishments, such as acknowledging milestones in sobriety.
Prior to ceasing in-person sessions because of COVID-19, those in the program would meet weekly.
"People who are in these specialized dockets, they rely a lot on the courts to give them that support, and one of the things that we focus so much so at HART is that support system outside of the courthouse," said Judge Thomas.
That communal foundation of the drug court started through more traditional methods, such as phone conversations and email. Those communication methods have expanded to social media, the center of which is a closed Facebook group page. In it, a peer recovery supporter provides links to services that have become more challenging to obtain due to organizations shuttering against the virus. On top of posts about essential needs, such as treatment, housing, and employment, there are also suggestions on how to boost mental and physical health amid isolation.
With much of the world conducting meetings through teleconference, the HART team is tinkering with technology to resume its hearings via mass video chats.
"Since we have over 100 participants, that takes a little bit of organizing, because we want to make sure that when they do participate in the [videoconference] meeting, that they feel that they can be heard and engaged," said Judge Thomas.
As challenging as it's been for everyone involved over the past few weeks, the drug court team has used the opportunity for ingenuity. New methods implemented now could lead to more efficient and successful practices in the future. That line of thinking is also an approach that's pivotal for the people dealing with substance use issues.
"We're hoping that the things that we're doing now, that we're providing them tools, and support, that way when bad things happen, they can handle them, and stay in recovery, be [sober], and do all of the amazing things we know that they have the potential to do," said Judge Thomas.