Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series reviewing local advocacy for drug court as the threat of its potential elimination looms.
Drug court was a lifesaver for Broadway House director David Lowden.
He has no doubt in his mind the intensive program played a substantial role in his rehabilitation from a life of drug abuse onto working in the rehabilitation center on 2nd Avenue housing 27 men on the road to sober living.
The threat of losing such a resource for those suffering with addiction does not sit well with Lowden.
“It’s hard to speculate what the aftermath will be,” Lowden said. “But I think it’s going to be messy.”
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services warned earlier this month that all outpatient services, including drug court, would be eliminated by Dec. 1 from the impact of losing as much as $75 million in state funding.
State lawmakers are currently in special session vying for solutions to plug a $215 million budget shortfall. Oklahoma would risk losing a program intended to save money from incarceration.
Lowden, a December 2015 graduate of the 20th District Drug Court in Carter County, collaborated with fellow drug court participants, eventually working toward independence while fighting his battle against substance abuse.
He went through regular rounds of counseling and drug testing as an alternative to jail time.
“It gets easier. It becomes a way of life, a lot better way of life than what you’re used to,” Lowden said. “I got a lot out of it, and it gave me a better foundation.”
The average annual cost of incarceration in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is $19,000 per person, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Incarceration costs are substantially higher than the average annual per person cost of $5,000 for drug court participation.
The state has also recorded drug court graduate re-arrest rates of 23.5 percent, compared to the 54.3 percent re-arrest rate of released inmates.
Lowden attended the drug court graduation of five people on Oct. 26, one residing in the Broadway House. He described the Broadway House and drug court relationship as “hand-in-hand.”
Graduates of drug court might decide to enroll in the Broadway House for further treatment. Broadway House admittees, alternatively, can seek drug court enrollment.
About a quarter of Broadway House men go through district drug court, Lowden said.
“I’m a really big advocate of drug court. God changed my life and used drug court to give me some structure when I needed it,” Lowden said. “It continues to save lives.”
Board members also advocate for the invaluable resource in drug court. Tom Groeschel, a board member of the 20th District Drug Court since 2012, has seen individuals like Lowden go through the system, get the judge’s nod of approval for the dismissal of felony charges and on to normalcy.
“It just forces them into a good, healthy routine to live life on life’s terms,” Groeschel said.
Groeschel said the program takes about two years to complete at a cost of $120 per month, and about 42 percent graduate from the 20th District Drug Court.
The already strained Carter County Sheriff’s Office would face heightened challenges of increased incarceration rates with the elimination of drug court, Groeschel believes. The jail, according to daily CCSO records, is routinely over its capacity of 186 inmates.
On graduation day, Thursday, Oct. 26, Groeschel described the atmosphere in the Carter County Courthouse surrounding the five rehabilitated individuals as both inspirational and motivational.
“It’s really exciting to see lives changed, to see the families coming back and supporting them after bridges have been burned.” Groeschel said. “All I’ve known is the drug court being successful.”