In Our View: Hundreds of Heroes

Local therapeutic courts turn lives around, save tax dollars

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Take it from Dorie Ingersoll, "Drug court saved my life." After Ingersoll celebrated her 10-year anniversary free of methamphetamine and heroin, and reflected last week on her work as an addiction counselor and mentor for those who face the same struggle … we believe her.But before reviewing the glorious details of Ingersoll's courageous triumph, let's focus on the pragmatic, fiscal realities of the local drug court. As we pointed out in 2009, officials in the justice system estimate that every dollar spent on drug court saves taxpayers about two dollars over the long haul. Those savings occur in arrests not made, trials not needed and costly jail terms not served.

For this purely financial reason, the local drug court that began in 1999, largely as an experiment, has succeeded so well that other "therapeutic" courts have been created. Each focuses on a special challenge in society: domestic violence, family strife, juvenile recovery, criminal violations tied to mental health issues and even misdemeanor offenses. Through a strict program of treatment, accountability before judges and counselors, and closely monitored personal behavior, violators are able to avoid jail time.

The drug court requires regular court appearances, inpatient treatment, a 12-step program, behavior modification, and court approval of where you live and work. Pretty tough regimen, but it beats the heck out of jail.

Not all stories are triumphs, but Clark County's drug court counts 412 graduates since 2001, and 150 defendants are currently enrolled. Potentially, that's 500-plus people who have turned their lives around and, more importantly to taxpayers, have saved untold public dollars.

That's the practical side of therapeutic courts.

The personal side brings us to our favorite part of the editorial. When Ingersoll was presented a plaque Thursday by Superior Court Judge James Rulli, a packed courtroom looked on. Tears of joy and pride flowed freely. Ingersoll reflected on her first year in drug court more than a decade ago: "my plan was to play the system" and return to her deadly addictions. Later, though: "I got scared of losing everything I had gained that year." And today: "I just carried that with me every single day. What they're teaching you to do today, I'm still doing."

That, and much more. For the past couple of years, Ingersoll has worked with Multnomah County helping people turn their lives around by walking the path she has traveled. "There are some days, I can't believe what I get to do," she said.

None of that would've happened without her community's deciding a decade ago that, perhaps, throwing the book at her might not be the best solution. Maybe another chance might work for Dorie, and save taxpayers a lot of money. This "maybe" is why they call it a "corrections" department. If violators are willing to meet strict guidelines, society is willing to give them a chance to correct the wrongs they've committed.

Rulli was quoted in a Columbian story: "It's people like Dorie who make me proud of what we started." Therapeutic courts coordinator Brad Finegood said: "In 1999, they had no idea what they would be doing would be setting the tone," for many therapeutic courts to come.

Congratulations, first, to the visionaries who launched this bold experiment years ago, and to those who continue to coordinate therapeutic courts. More directly, though, the highest praise to the hundreds of Dories who keep saving their own lives.