Heroin in the High Country
May 30, 2014
In Judge Katharine Sullivan’s problem-solving court program, Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, all clients follow four basic steps:
1. They spend time with the judge.
2. They understand incentives and consequences.
3. They’re part of a strong treatment program.
4. They’re monitored for drug and alcohol use.
It’s a little like school. It starts on time and if you’re late you can get detention, except detention is across the hall at the Eagle County Crossbar Hotel.
You miss a group meeting, you go to jail.
You lie to the judge or her team, you go to jail.
You’re caught drinking or doing drugs, you go to jail.
You have to put together 365 straight days of sobriety.
Editor's note: This is the final article of a four-part series about heroin's growing prevalence in Colorado's Central Rockies ski resort communities.
Some programs try to get clients to think their way to a better way of living. A local problem solving court helps the addicted live their way to a better way of thinking.
Judge Katharine Sullivan's Adult Intensive Supervision Probation program is one of Colorado's most successful "problem solving" courts, a program to seeks alternatives to putting people in prison.
Bryan Lynch is the supervisor for the probation office and helps run Sullivan's program.
Colorado's Fifth Judicial District received a federal grant that made it possible to split the program into two segments and hire Karen Hoeger as full-time problem solving court coordinator.
One segment is for repeat DUI offenders. They're trying to avoid a year in jail. The other segment is felons with addictions that have them looking at state prison. A probation officer is assigned to each segment.
Before this, Sullivan's courtroom was packed with people most Wednesday afternoons, when they all get together with Sullivan.
"We're busy," Lynch said smiling.
Survive and thrive
Sometimes people land back in jail because they know nothing else. They're released from jail with a plastic bag filled with everything they had with them when they were arrested, and are set loose.
It's not uncommon to see them walking up Chambers Avenue in Eagle with nowhere to go.
Chuck, who asked that his last name not be used, is helping a group of locals are launching a new program, Survive!, that teaches people already in jail the skills and coping mechanisms they need to live out from behind bars.
Survive! combats the same problem from both ends, Chuck said. They also run preventive programs for kids, helping kids stay on the straight and narrow.
Better than busy
Busy is good; good results are better.
Across the country, problem solving courts see about half their graduates relapse.
People who graduate one of Sullivan's problem solving courts stay clear of trouble 87 percent of the time.
People who spend a stretch in jail and prison tend to land back behind bars between 60 and 80 percent of the time, Lynch said.
It costs $35,000 a year to imprison someone in Colorado, Lynch said. Problem solving courts, a prison alternative, costs $5,100 per person/per year. Probation costs $1,566 a year per person.
"Not only is Judge Sullivan doing the community a great service, she's saving the taxpayers a ton of money," Lynch said.
These were the justice system's frequent fliers, who are in and out of jail. Alcohol and drugs had them serving their life sentences a few weeks or months at a time.
You can ask to be part of this program, or one of the judges can ask for you if they think it'll help. You'll do something recovery related seven days a week for at least a year, working through the program in phases. Each phase gives you a little more freedom.
It takes at least a year to finish the program. If it takes longer than two years, then you'll find yourself somewhere far less pleasant than Sullivan's courtroom.
When they're done, they have a graduation with cake, friends and family.
Their graduation speech consists of Judge Sullivan proclaiming this welcome phrase: "You are officially off paper!" And with the stroke of her pen, she liberates them from the justice system by signing their Order for Termination of Probation.
Your day in court
Before she was a judge, Sullivan ran drug and alcohol intervention programs all around the country. "High-dollar rehab," she calls them. On drug court day, her team spends all day preparing for the afternoon session.
Each client gets a few minutes of face time with Sullivan as she asks them to tell her something good from their lives that week.
Most have something. Some don't. Cody was in the system for attempting to distribute a controlled substance. He relapsed, and that violates the integrity contract he signed. He was awarded a few days in the Eagle County jail to consider his future.
Terry has been without a drink for nine months. He'd never gone a month before.
A few wear Transdermal Alcohol Detection bracelets that can indicate alcohol or drugs in their systems. It can get to be a crutch. Sullivan and her AISP team don't like crutches.
Still, some need a little help avoiding trouble.
One participant, Jack, asked the judge for permission to travel to the Caribbean for a vacation. Sullivan and her team decided that a trip built around excessive drinking might not be his best environment.
Life still happens to them. Chris got sober, then lost his job and his home, but says he managed to put all that back together because he wasn't drunk and/or hung over.
When this latest class is "off paper," Sullivan looks around at her graduates and extracts vows that they'll keep in touch, as long as it's not through her courtroom door for official reasons.
"I want to see you, but I never want you to be in court again," she said.