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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Friday, October 16, 2015

Judge Dally Goes to Drug Court School

(During a recess, from left to right, Judicial Clerk Stephanie Spencer, Ass't PD Matt Goodrich, Judge Irvin G Condon:, Meghan Wheeler, Vanessa Price and Judge Craig Dally)

It was a little unusual to see a judge sitting in a training room taking notes, but that's exactly what Northampton County Judge Craig Dally was doing. Instead of being surrounded by tipstaffs and deputy sheriffs, Judge Dally was enveloped by his treatment team, which consisted mostly of Human Services employees. They were all going to school, not to learn about the new math, but drug courts.

Under Judge Dally's guidance, Northampton County began operating a drug court in April. It is one of two county problem solving courts and currently has 11 participants. The other problem solving court, a mental health court, has engaged five defendants.

Stephanie Spencer, Esq., a member of Judge Dally's Treatment Team, said that problem solving courts deal with the underlying behavior that results in criminal activity. It's a court that requires intensive treatment and supervision by a participant who wants to be there. This is in contrast to regular criminal courts in which people who end up in jail are just "sitting and not progressing."

Drug courts are post-conviction tribunals that deal with people who have already gone through the criminal system and are on probation. Mental health courts, in contrast, deal with persons who have been charged with criminal behavior, but have not been convicted. Participants in that program must be approved by the District Attorney.

According to Spencer, policies are in place for veterans in both courts. She explained they have different needs and that different programs are available to them. Meghan Wheeler added that, nationwide, there is a specific type of problem solving court called a Veteran Treatment Court.

Do these courts just add costs? Advocates argue that they actually save money. Spencer noted that every person kept out of jail saves the County $100 per day, and that state programs and private insurance bear much of the cost. According to a study prepared by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, every dollar invested in a drug court saves taxpayers $3.36 in criminal justice costs alone. Most importantly, 75% of drug court graduates never see another pair of handcuffs.

Judge Dally and his treatment team received instruction from Judge Irvin G Condon, who has presided over Charleston County's Drug Court since its inception in 1999. Former Oklahoma City Police Inspector Vanessa Price, who helped develop a drug court there, also served as an instructor. Meghan Wheeler, who helped develop a statewide drug court in Ohio rounded out the faculty. They were sent by the National Drug Court Institute.

Northampton County is one of just ten jurisdictions selected to participate in this training. This is a step toward accreditation of the Northampton County Drug Court program by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

( Judge Dally is just another student in classes conducted by the National Drug Court Institute.)

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