County's New Drug Court Steers Offenders!

County's New Drug Court Steers Offenders!
Posted by FoM on March 22, 1999 at 06:34:42 PT

Dorothy Robison used to pray that her eldest son would go to jail.  Drug court program participant David Ruttenberg is now a student at the International Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette) 
"It might be wrong to say, but I felt better with him in jail than out here. I used to dream I found him dead all the time," she said.He was a junkie who had bought and sold heroin for most of his 51 years. He stole from his family and often slept in the streets, where, his mother knew, his life was worth little. At least in jail, he might survive.Robison, 70, of the Hill District, prayed, often without hope, that he would get his life together.Perhaps he has.A little more than a year ago, on Feb. 5, 1998, her son, Thomas Harris, was one of the first people to appear in Allegheny County's new drug court.Rather than go to jail on the latest drug charge he faced, he agreed to try this new program that gives habitual drug offenders a chance to straighten out - through counseling, classes and work.No one thought he had much of a chance.But Harris has been drug free since that day. He has a job. The electronic monitoring bracelet came off his ankle last month. He is on schedule to graduate - that's what they call successful participants in drug court - this summer.Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus calls Harris and other drug court success stories his heroes."I just can't tell you how proud I am to be associated with you," he recently told the first class of drug court graduates.The people who successfully get off drugs, Nauhaus said, "are my answer to the question, when I look in the mirror at the end of the day and ask, 'What have you done to justify your existence?' "So far, 103 people have enrolled in drug court, and only four have been kicked out. Drug court is modeled after a program in Miami and is now being offered in hundreds of cities. In a series of stories, the Post-Gazette has tracked the efforts of several participants in Allegheny County's program.It is too early to say the program is a success; time will be the judge of that. But Nauhaus is unabashedly enthusiastic."This is the first time I've come into a courtroom where everybody was happy to be here," Nauhaus said at the court's first graduation March 3, which included certificates and key chains for the graduates and coffee and cake for everyone else. The party and presents were paid for by drug forfeiture money collected through the courts."We thought it was only appropriate," said Claire Capristo, the chief trial deputy in the district attorney's office, who helped set up the drug court."Graduation," she said, "is considered an essential part of any successful drug court program."The reason, she said, is that it often represents the first time a program participant has successfully completed anything.The first five people who graduated were surrounded by their families.David Ruttenberg, 25, of Duquesne brought his mother, Sharon. Ruttenberg had spent a decade smoking marijuana. "[My mother] called me a creature of the night," he said.The only time Sharon Ruttenberg would see her son was when she woke up in the morning, and he was headed to bed, she said.The last time David Ruttenberg smoked marijuana was Feb. 19, 1998, before he appeared in drug court for possession of a controlled substance. He had used marijuana every day for years."I was high the day I got sentenced," he said."He couldn't talk," Sharon Ruttenberg said. "You couldn't hold a conversation with him."He was also no help at home. "He wouldn't pick up his clothes."Now, he is cooking, cleaning and washing clothes to help his mother, who has been having difficulty walking because of a serious toe infection caused by diabetes. He also is a student at the International Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh."I love to cook," he said.When defendants enter the drug court program, they are evaluated by the Allegheny County Probation Department to determine what level of services they need.Harris, for instance, was placed in a residential program at Alpha House, where he was free to focus on treatment without the stresses of everyday life.Ruttenberg was placed on house arrest and sent to outpatient treatment for his drug habit.Sean Demus, 26, of Wilkinsburg said the electronic monitoring, which demanded that he be home when he wasn't at treatment or at work, was tough. But it worked."I hated it at first, the house arrest. I hated it," he said.Demus, who had been addicted to crack cocaine for about a year, was one of the first five graduates of the program. He received his certificate while holding his 2-year-old daughter, Shona."Sean promised me he was going to make it," Nauhaus said before handing him his certificate. Then, looking at Shona with her father, he said, "You have all the reason in the world sitting in your lap to make it from here."Demus, who works as a prep cook, said eventually the house arrest did exactly what it was intended to do. "It slowed me down. It got me to thinking," he said. "It really had me thinking about what I did, what I was doing and where I was going."Not all of the drug court participants have been instant successes. Kevin Compton was the first person to feel the wrath of Nauhaus. Compton, 24, of Northview Heights, tested positive for marijuana in the first month after he entered drug court. And he had not signed up for a course to earn his General Educational Development certificate, as his treatment program required."Get an education. Get a job. Get a clue," Nauhaus yelled from the bench during Compton's first progress hearing in February 1998. Compton had been in the program for two weeks. The judge made it clear that Compton would go back to jail if he tested positive one more time.Compton last month gave Nauhaus the answers the judge was seeking."I passed my GED," he said. His next step will be to take community college courses in computers. His graduation from drug court also is scheduled for this summer.The more severe addicts, like Harris, are sent to residential treatment programs. There they are supposed to learn how to manage the stresses of daily life without turning to drugs to tune out. For some, the lessons are hard to learn.Credell Strong, 43, was in residential treatment at Alpha House before his treatment was scaled back. He was then required to wear an electronic bracelet and be at home when he wasn't working or in treatment. Just before Christmas, Nauhaus gave Strong a pass so he could spend time with his girlfriend. Strong left home and didn't come back.When he did finally call Nauhaus, the judge told him that he would spend one day back in jail for every day he was on the run. He finally turned himself in in mid-January. On Feb. 25, a deputy sheriff led him back into court in handcuffs."Well, Credell, you been in long enough?" the judge asked."Yup," Strong replied."We're about even now. Huh, Credell?" the judge asked.Strong just shrugged.The judge gave him a choice: Go back to residential treatment or spend years in prison as a career criminal with a long list of shoplifting offenses."Honestly, I want to be put on house arrest and go to meetings," Strong said."Nope, we already tried it," Nauhaus answered.Strong tried to explain, but the judge cut him off, saying: "You broke trust with me.""How do I rebuild it?" Strong asked.The judge said he had to go back to the beginning, to the residential program, where he would have a full schedule of care.Strong explained that the residential programs were easy. As long as he followed instructions, he didn't have any problems. The problems started when the supports were taken away. "The problem is dealing with life when life turns me out on the street," he said."What's the problem here?" Nauhaus asked."Doing what I need to do on a continuous basis," Strong said.Strong's probation officer, John Griffin, standing next to him, agreed. He said when Strong's life is structured, he performs well. Then, turning to Strong, he said, "When problems occur, you don't access your support systems - you run."Strong was allowed to remain in the drug court program.In the first year, only four people have been forced out of the program for violating the terms of their treatment. Three people were released from the program for medical reasons. Most, like Strong, have gotten second chances.Harris, whose life on drugs was heading toward death in the streets, needed only the one chance. Now, instead of selling drugs, he is working nights in a foundry, pulling hot steel plates from an oven to cool. His arms ache at the end of the night. He's exhausted from standing for 10 hours straight. But, he said, he is unwilling to take the consequences that go with not showing up for work."The fact is I've got money in my pocket, and I didn't have to do nothing wrong to get it," he said. "I can help my mom."He also can stay clean if he stays focused, he said."Most of the people that came into drug court with me have relapsed. There's only three or four of us who haven't," he said. "Everybody was betting I'd be the one to go back."Then he paused for a moment and smiled."It's a great feeling not to be predictable."
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Comment #1 posted by Brian T. Thurmon on August 21, 2001 at 12:36:46 PT:
I am in Drug Court
Dear Judge Nauhaus its me Brian T. Thurmon a member of Drug Court I came here trying to fing the county jail. I was wondering if there is a way that I dont have to do the 10 days in jail for the positive urine test? I was told it was only three days by the Probation officer for the first time.Why did you hit me so hard? Maybe you can tell me tommorow see you then.
Greedy Studios
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