BONNERS FERRY — Mike Carmean became the third successful graduate from the Boundary County Drug Court on Thursday, May 9.
The program, already well established in other areas of Idaho, began about two years ago here in Boundary County. The idea is to offer treatment instead of jail time to non-violent, substance abusing offenders.
According to the state of Idaho Judicial Branch’s website, they state, “A decade of research indicates that Drug Courts reduce crime by lowering re-arrest and conviction rates, improving substance abuse treatment outcomes, and reuniting families, and also produce measurable cost benefits.”
The most difficult aspect of the program for most participants, in the long run, also makes it highly successful for those who want to succeed.
“I believe the program works 100 percent, but it is up to the person to want it,” Carmean said. “I wanted it and they backed me up.”
The participants, once chosen for the 18-month program, are required to do regular drug and alcohol testing, and also attend two meetings a week, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or another faith-based meeting.
“That gives them the ability to wean away from this program eventually, and be a part in their assimilating into the community,” said Drug Court Coordinator Marilyn Miller. “They are getting all of their treatment out in their environment, where they live and are an asset to this community.”
Participants also attend the regular Drug Court that is made up of a panel of volunteers. The current active Drug Court team is First District Judge Barbara Buchanan, District Manager/DC Coordinator Marilyn Miller, Prosecutors Jack Douglas and Tevis Hull, Attorney at Law-Public Defender Serra Woods, IDOC Probation/Parole Ron Pell, Chris Rawlings from Rawlings Community Counseling, Kootenai Tribal Representative, Vice Chair of Kootenai Tribal Council Angela Cooper and Kootenai Tribal Police Officer Heiko Arshat.
With all of the authoritative figures, it could seem intimidating, but instead they provide a great resource to help the participants.
“We are much more informal,” Buchanan explained about the Drug Court. “I don’t use the bench. We sit at the table and gather around and I don’t wear a robe.”
Buchanan has been a part of the Bonner County Drug Court for about 20 years and believes strongly in the program. The Drug Court in Boundary County is different due to its smaller size.
“It is a really unique court because it is small. People are very close knit — the team — and we have also gotten the tribe involved,” Buchanan said. “Our second graduate was a member of the tribe, so there is a tribal member that is on our team, so we are trying to work with the whole community — and that is unique.”
Having Rawlings Community Counseling on the team offers participants more opportunities to better themselves, not only in recovery, but in moving forward with a healthier lifestyle.
“Rawlings is a phenomenal treatment center,” Miller said. “Their counselors can do more than just counseling. They are working on life skills so they can help people with budgeting, find a job, finding a place to live, or those sorts of things, so they have been a great team member.”
Carmean attributes some of his success to Rawlings, calling the team “amazing.” His accomplishments, and turn about of his life, were great enough for him to be invited back to be a part of the panel, so he can mentor other participants — after a long awaited vacation.
“It is a big honor for me for them to want me to be on the panel,” Carmean said. “So I am excited about that. I don’t know if I am more excited to go on vacation or getting back to where I can work with them.”
The program is not only rewarding to those who go through it, but also for the volunteers, including Angela Cooper, vice chair of the Kootenai Tribal Council.
“It’s been a really amazing experience,” Cooper said. “I have really enjoyed getting to know all of the people that I work with on the panel, and I have enjoyed even more watching all the participants grow and change into these new, incredible versions of themselves, that they never had the chance to be before.”
“I feel like I play a very small part in it, but I am very proud to be a part of it,” she said. “I am just over-the-moon proud of all of our participants.”
Carmean has heard that some people believe that Drug Court is very difficult and it sets participants up to fail, but he strongly disagrees.
“They never set me up to fail,” Carmean said. “They made me look at things different to where I wanted to succeed on my own. They didn’t judge me throughout the whole thing. I found out that it might be judges or parole officers — but they are just like us. They admitted to me that they learn as much from me as I learn from them.”
The program is still in its fledgling stages in Boundary County, but three participants have already graduated, and two more that are currently in the program are very optimistic about the results. It not only helps individuals rehabilitate, but also begins a core group of people that can begin to influence a change toward a drug free and sober community. It is far more cost effective than incarceration, and participants have a better chance at permanently changing their lives.
“I would like the community to know that we are doing this program and we are hoping that it will continue to grow and be successful,” Miller said. “I just love the program and I love this community.”