Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle (left) and Judge Farrell Hatch of Bryan County District Court. The Choctaw Nation is currently providing funds to help support Oklahoma’s much-needed Drug Courts.

Oklahoma Choctaw Nation Lends Assistance to State Substance Abuse Program

Patti Jo King
8/13/11

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is banking on the success of a hallmark state-run substance abuse program in an effort to help support families in crisis by providing financial assistance to county-run Drug Courts to help underwrite court participants and employees.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health (ODMH), reports that the State of Oklahoma faced an economic downturn, eight years ago, and drastically cut funding for its county Drug Courts. Lack of funding placed severe limitations on the numbers of community members served. As a result, many non-violent substance abusing offenders were denied access to the unique treatment alternatives offered by the courts, and were instead sentenced to jail or prison time.

Although years of research has proven that Drug Courts have a high success rate of reducing crime, lowering recidivism, reuniting families, and saving tax dollars, the ODMH reports that over the past few years, millions have been slashed from substance abuse program budgets. As a result, many Oklahomans have been left with nowhere to turn for the help they desperately need.

Choctaw Nation Chief Gregory E. Pyle made the initial decision to provide assistance, and the tribe has continued to fund the Courts, expanding support to five counties since then. Choctaw Tribal Management Executive Director Shannon McDaniel, who has served as a Drug Court board member, says he wholeheartedly agrees with the tribe’s contribution to the programs because “it is the right thing to do.”

“In recent years, the Choctaw Nation has enjoyed a great deal of success. We think it’s only right to give back to the community out of our business profits,” McDaniel said.

“We live in a rural area where it is easy to see the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol abuse on individuals in our communities,” he continued. “Substance abuse is a growing problem that affects everyone, Indian, non-Indian, rich, or poor. Drug Courts give offenders an opportunity to remain at home, to support and be supported by their families, and to become productive members of society again.”

Drug Courts work by diverting non-violent, substance abusers away from prison and jails into viable treatment programs. Using rapid intervention, direct supervision, coordinated public resources, sanctions and incentives, and by expediting the case process, Drug Courts help break the cycle of addiction, lower criminal behavior, and discourage repeat incarceration.

In 2001, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals participated in two days of meetings with members of the House and Senate and held a press briefing in Tulsa to urge support for Drug Court funding. Congress is currently providing some $88.8 million annually for Courts operating in 50 states.

According to a 2004 report by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center, Drug Courts establish clear and inflexible rules and mandate complete compliance. A special Drug Court team directly supervises participants, unlike standard probation arrangements, under which supervisorial state corrections officers only see their charges on an intermittent basis. Under probation, individuals spend a lot of time unsupervised and at loose ends, often a recipe for failure.

Drug Courts also make the progress of individuals much easier to measure.

“Recidivism rates have dropped down to four percent among Drug Court participants,” Judge Farrell Hatch, Bryan County District Court and long-time Drug Court judge points out. “In addition to staying off substances, participants must have a job or attend school, participate in extensive counseling, observe curfews and pass regular drug tests. The program takes about 18-24 months to complete.

Hatch attributes much of the success of the program to the Choctaw Nation. “The Choctaws have helped a great deal with economic and social support for the courts. They have really stepped up to the plate and their assistance has had a tremendous impact,” Hatch said.

“I can’t say enough about the influence the Drug Courts have had on Native American communities,” McDaniel adds. There are many success stories. Participants are asked to decide where they want to be in five years, and it really gives them hope for the future. This is something we wanted for our tribe and for other Indians. It is such a good fit for the Indian community, that we have not had even one negative response to our decision to fund the program. We are very happy to be able to contribute to the well being of our people and our neighbors as well.”

In 2009 the Choctaw Nation donated more than $3 million to local charities, churches, non-profit organizations, and public safety agencies throughout 10 Oklahoma counties.

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