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posted: 1/27/2010 12:01 AM

Riverboat funds help Kane Co. drug court stay afloat

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The Kane County Board moved toward using riverboat grants to fund the existence of the county's drug court for the first time in October. On Tuesday, the board learned what that $500,000 of riverboat money will actually pay for.

Drug court is a program that allows nonviolent offenders with a substance abuse program to enter a treatment program instead of going to jail. The program became a required element in all of Illinois' 22 judicial circuits for the first time when the calendar rolled into 2010.

That was bad news for Kane County. The law change didn't provide the judicial circuits with any money to create those drug courts. And Kane County lost federal grant funding it previously received to bring drug court into existence.

The agreement that first brought riverboat funds to the county said the money would only be used for education, environmental or economic development purposes. But the riverboat grants were the only big chunk of cash the county had available to keep drug court in place. So the county board agreed to an exception to the rules for riverboat funds for the first time.

Judge Patricia Golden, who oversees Kane County's drug court, told the county board Tuesday that the money is well spent.

Golden said the drug court program has 588 graduates since it was established in 2000. Crack cocaine is the drug of choice for 52 percent of the program participants. Marijuana is the second most commonly used drug at 21 percent. More than 60 percent of the participants selected for the program are white.

Statistics also show the county has done a good job in selecting candidates dedicated to the 30-month program. A recidivism study for the years 2002 to 2007 show 80 percent of the program graduates have no criminal record three years after graduation. Despite mandatory weekly court appearances, home and workplace visits and a minimum of three drug screens a week, only 3 percent of the drug tests came back positive for participants in 2009.

"We have a lot of positive things that are going on here," said Chief Judge F. Keith Brown. "The riverboat fund has stepped up and helped us in a time of need. This is an ideal situation of what probation can do and change people's lives."