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Van Buren County Courthouse

Five Van Buren County specialty courts that provide treatment rather than incarceration for low-level offenders have secured $650,000 in funding from the state.

The specialty courts slated to receive state funds include the Drug Treatment Court, Family Reunification Court, Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program, Adult and Family Recovery Courts and Sobriety Court.

The five courts have made a difference over the past dozen years in helping offenders deal with mental health and drug-related issues, as well as lowering the number of people who become repeat offenders, according to Hollywood Watkins, specialty courts administrator for Van Buren County.

The Drug Treatment Court is the oldest of Van Buren County’s specialty courts.

“The program has been in operation since 2008, has served 594 men and women and has excellent outcomes, including a 16 percent recidivism rate among program graduates, 12 months after completion,” she said. “Without drug court programming, a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 76.9 percent of offenders were rearrested within five years, with nearly half of those within the first year of release.”

The Drug Treatment Court serves about 80 participants per year, Watkins said.

“Defendants must have a diagnosed substance-use disorder and be a non-violent offender to be eligible for this intensive supervision and treatment program,” she said.

Watkins outlined outcomes achieved by the other specialty courts:

Family Reunification Court: Since its inception in 2012, the Court has served 148 families. Ninety percent of the graduates maintained or regained custody of their children when discharged from the program. “We are also proud that 100 percent of babies born in the program were free of all substances,” Watkins said.

Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program: In operation since 2012, the program can serve about 50 high-risk probationers per year who are supervised by Van Buren County Swift and Sure Case managers and the Michigan Department of Corrections. The program has a 55 percent successful completion rate, which is higher than the state average, Watkins said.

Van Buren County Recovery Courts: The program began in September 2015 and has served 29 youth and 90 adults to date who have underlying issues leading to their criminal history. Its target population is non-violent offenders, with pending misdemeanor or felony charges, who are assessed as having a persistent and serious mental illness or developmental disability.

Sobriety Court: Now in its fifth year, the program has served 223 persons convicted of either second or third drunk driving offenses. They receive help through case management, intensive supervision, use of breath alcohol ignition interlock devices, frequent drug testing and substance-use treatment.

In addition to the specialty courts, the $150,000 for the Van Buren Office of Community Corrections focuses on limiting certain felony offenders from prison or jail by providing rehabilitation programs and supervision services.