Drug Court needs support to thrive

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier with a November graduating class from Drug Court. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier with a November graduating class from Drug Court. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

JONESBORO — The worse part of getting labeled a convicted felon is trying to find a job.

Couple that with the likelihood the felon has no driver’s license because of past DUIs and it is a recipe for disaster for the felon who is trying to turn his or her life around.

For the 40 participants in Clayton County Drug Court, having a job can mean the difference between being in prison and being at home. However, that’s just one hurdle they stumble over on the long road to sobriety and recovery. Felons are often turned away from property management companies so finding housing is difficult.

These problems were presented recently to the new members of a steering committee formed to help solve them. One of the members is Todd Cox, a Drug Court graduate with three years sobriety. Cox was elected vice-chair and Dr. Donna McCarty of Clayton State University will serve as chairwoman.

“This is the most frustrating thing the participants have to deal with,” said Cox. “You’re trying to do the right thing and you can’t find a job. No one wants to hire a convicted felon even though we aren’t violent. We need the jobs obviously to take care of families and pay for the program but the biggest thing is for self-worth.”

Clayton County police Maj. Robert Tumlin said it may just take exposing the community to the facts surrounding Drug Court.

“We need to educate employers to give participants a fighting chance,” he said.

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier oversees Drug Court, which is part of the county’s Accountability Courts program. State Court Judge Linda Cowen oversees DUI Court on the misdemeanor level.

Collier said far from being perceived as liabilities, program participants should be viewed as assets because of their involvement and dedication to their sobriety.

“I think they are good candidates because they are randomly drug-tested and supervised,” he said. “They are subject to having their curfew checked at any time so you know they aren’t going to be out getting into trouble.”

Collier hoped participants would make good tenants for the same reason but that hasn’t been the case. The frustrating aspect for the Drug Court team is money is available to pay for housing.

“We do have a grant for housing,” said Collier. “We have $200,000 to pay for rent. We’re looking for some place for participants to live. If they don’t have housing in Clayton County, we have to turn them down.”

Collier said there are about 10 participants who need stable housing. Committee members debated and rejected buying foreclosed homes to rehab in order to house several participants because of liability issues.

“I think we need to stick to apartment complexes because of the liability involved in owning property,” said Christine Van Dross, Clayton County chief public defender.

Once participants are housed and employed, they need transportation not only to work but to AA meetings, treatment facilities and, above all, court.

“I accept no excuses,” said Collier. “Ask Mr. Cox.”

Participants frequently bicycle to wherever they need to be, particularly since the county has no form of public transportation. One participant is in her 60s and rides a bike every day. Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner is on the committee and told members the board is working on putting something in place.

Again, Collier said there is grant money available to pay for transportation.

“There is funding for transportation but we can’t find a company that doesn’t require pre-billing,” he said. “We need to deal with someone who can bill us at the end of 30 days. Everyone wants to be pre-paid and we can’t do that.”

Committee members heaved a collective sigh when they learned one of the city police departments destroyed a collection of recovered bicycles rather than pass them on to the county for use by Drug Court participants.

“What a waste,” said McCarty.

The first action for the committee is to get the program certified as a nonprofit organization. Collier said all the documents have been prepared but the filing fee is $1200. Members pledged to ask the community for donations.

Once the nonprofit designation is reached, the program can accept tax-deductible contributions from individuals, businesses and corporations.

The committee will meet again June 6.

For information on supporting Accountability Courts, contact coordinator Deborah Boddie at Deborah.Boddie@co.clayton.ga.us.