Judge takes some unusual steps to help rehabilitate drug users
Donned in a orange jumper from the Kane County jail, Carrie Brummel stood before Judge James Doyle hoping for the best.
She had been living on the streets of Chicago for three years and using heroin for five. She wanted help and knew exactly where she could find it.
"Carrie, how bad is your heroin addiction?" Doyle asked.
In a barely audible voice, Carrie told him it was bad - though Doyle already knew that. At one point, she was pushed out of a third story window in Chicago because of a dispute over drugs. She broke her back and ankles, but is better now.
"I've heard a lot about you from everyone else in here," Doyle says. "I've heard about you all day today. It's my understanding you really want to change and get off the heroin."
Brummel is in the right place.
Doyle runs a drug rehabilitation court program that offers treatment along with the rules that Doyle believes are needed for an addict to stay clean.
Other counties offer drug court programs, where offenders can be sentenced to treatment. But none offer the extensive supervision found in Kane County's program.
Instead of jail time for addicts who steal or commit other crimes for drugs, Doyle sentences them to a novel two-year program that he says can change their lives.
Brummel tells Doyle she wants in. The public defender stands by with little comment as Doyle sets down the rules and tells her she'll have to plead guilty - without a trial - to the crimes she's committed.
Brummel agrees to the terms and after a meeting with a counselor she's accepted and is placed with a man who runs a Christian-based program for addicts.
Doyle's is not the typical drug court.
To Doyle, this is the "better way" he sought after Jesse Tecuanhuey, one of the repeat offenders in his courtroom, died in 1998 from a heroin and cocaine overdose.
"Regular probation does not work with drug addicts," Doyle said.
Tecuanhuey was put on probation and ordered to undergo treatment. But he was eventually kicked out of treatment.
Doyle said he didn't learn of the problem weeks later. Doyle was in the process of trying to get Tecuanhuey back in court, but before that could happen Tecuanhuey died.
"The next thing I knew, I was reading his obituary," Doyle recalled.
Right away, he knew it was a drug overdose, but he made a phone call just to make sure. Tecuanhuey was found dead inside hotel room in Melrose Park in October of 1999. He died of an overdose of heroin and cocaine.
At that time, Kane County judges had talked about an extensive drug court program, but none was started. Doyle began pushing again for a specialized program that would provide the kind of supervision and treatment that Tecuanhuey didn't get.
Doyle wanted a program that would combine treatment with intensive probation and supervision so that he could keep tabs of how people are doing in treatment.
Today, Doyle works with social workers, attorneys, community activists and probation officers to make sure program participants get the help he thinks they need. If someone gets kicked out of treatment, Doyle knows about it right away - not weeks later - and can make changes.
So far, it's working.
"It stops the revolving door of probation," St. Charles Police Chief Don Shaw said of the program. "People who are addicts and commit crimes are held accountable."
Now Doyle doesn't wait for probation to call him about a problem. Instead he meets weekly with his charges to get updates on their progress. If there's a problem at the treatment center, Doyle makes sure it gets straightened out.
Probation officers also are more visible. They drop by three times a week - at least - to collect urine samples to make sure no one is using drugs. If someone tests positive for drugs, Doyle puts them in jail - either that day or the next.
But Doyle is quick to note that being strict alone won't keep people off drugs.
The program also includes mandatory treatment - usually some residential program followed by a halfway house.
Today, the program has 84 participants and another 11 on a waiting list to get in. And the program is being run without any additional money from the county.
Doyle comes in early and stays late on Wednesdays and Fridays to meet with drug court participants. Kane County Chief Judge Grant Wegner moved five probation officers from a different drug court program to Doyle's courtroom.
Though no additional money has been budgeted to run the program, county board members are considering a request for $250,000 to help cover the expense of treatment.
So far, Doyle has relied on state funds to cover the expense of sending people to treatment centers, but his charges often have to wait in jail while Doyle and others involved in the drug court program find bed at a treatment center that still has state money to cover the expense.
Kane County board members are expected to take up the request for additional funding later this month.
Though no one has "graduated" from the program, organizers boast of its success. Of the 84 participants, only 10 have relapsed after completing drug treatment - and many of those people are getting help again. Doyle notes under regular probation the percentages for relapses are higher.
"You see a definite change when they get put into the program," said Alicia Klimpke, one of four probation officers assigned to the program. "Before they were unable to function. Now they are holding down jobs and going to school."
And just as important, the people who used to commit crimes to get drugs aren't out committing crimes.
"I've worked here for 25 years and I've never seen so many offenders stop committing criminal offenses," said Mike Daly, who oversees the probation officers working in the program. "You have people who were constantly in jail who are no longer constantly in jail."
He noted only one of the participants in the program is back in jail for committing another offense. But for the rest of the folks, the forgery, stealing and burglarizing has stopped.
The program is not without its detractors.
Doyle requests answers to questions most defense attorneys would object too. The three-times-a-week visits from probation and weekly visits with Doyle are intrusive.
Some defense lawyers even go so far as to request another judge so their client won't have to appear before Doyle.
Doyle agrees the program is intrusive, but says that's what works. And as for criminals looking for a way out - he argues his program is tougher than jail.
And that government intrusion may go further. Doyle said he's rethinking what he will do once the first participants hit the two-year mark - and if he'll release the folks who have made it through right away.
He is considering a requirement that would mean being clean for a full year before being released from the drug rehabilitation court program. Those who have been will get the pass after finishing their two years. Those who have not stayed clean may be required to stay in the program even after they complete their two-year stint.
Probation officers also are talking about using some of the graduates as mentors for newcomers into the program.
"The government intrusion is help and assistance," Doyle said. "This is taking the addiction and treating the disease."
The program also gives people the chance Jesse Tecuanhuey never had.
"If it had come back before me, I would have put him in jail and we would have tried something differently," Doyle says of Tecuanhuey's case. "That's why we're doing what we're doing now."