ICYMI: Marin drug court gets $500K to aid defendants
By Richard Halstead


From the Marin Independent Journal

A new $500,000 grant from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance will enable Marin County to provide additional assistance to defendants in drug court.

The three-year grant will help pay for additional beds in sober living environments and a part-time recovery coach to connect participants with other services.

“For drug court clients, housing has been a major concern,” said Marlon Washington, Marin County’s chief probation officer. “A lot of participants need the support of a sober living environment. The structure and support is crucial to their sobriety. These funds will go towards supporting that.”

Jei Africa, director of Marin County’s Behavioral Health and Recovery Services division, said, “We’re calculating that an additional 48 folks will have some temporary housing as they’re getting services for substance abuse.”

Africa said there are five recovery coaches working with the program. The grant will make it possible to add one more.

Africa said some of the grant money also will be used for ongoing operation of the program. He said the county has been receiving grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to help support the program since 2017.

“We have about 94 individuals who have been served through the adult drug court,” Africa said. “We have 17 currently who are still in the program.”

Deborah Lewis, the public defender assigned to the drug court, said the court’s most recent graduation rate was 62%.

“In years past, we never even came close to 50%,” she said.

Lewis said that over the last few years, the county has made a successful effort to increase the participation of African Americans, Latinos and women in the drug court.

“We needed more money to hire a part-time female Spanish-speaking recovery coach to better serve our female and monolingual Spanish-speaking participants,” Lewis said. “This added money will go a long way toward assisting us in our goal of increasing access and retaining participants of traditionally underrepresented groups.”

Washington said the number of people entering drug court has decreased during the pandemic because the number of in-person court hearings has been limited. Most hearings have been conducted over the internet.

Washington said there might be an influx of new participants when courts return to more normal operations.

Africa said defendants are generally referred to the drug court program by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. The drug court includes a judge, a prosecutor, a public defender, a probation officer, a psychologist and a manager from the county health department.

The program, which takes 12 to 13 months to complete, includes self-help meetings and substance use treatment. Participants meet regularly with a probation officer, case manager and assessment specialist. They are required to submit to urine tests whenever ordered and to make regular court appearances.

Africa said methamphetamines and opioids are the two drugs the program participants most typically struggle with.

Rochelle Ereman, a Marin County epidemiologist, said the number of suspected opioid overdoses in the county increased from 207 in 2019 to 243 in 2020.

Program graduates typically have their drug-related charges dismissed, jail sentences reduced or stayed or probation terminated.

Africa said some of the sober living sites are provided through Buckelew Programs, Center Point and Luminous Sober Living.

Dennis McCray, vice president of Center Point, said as participants prepare to re-enter the community, they typically need assistance in finding a job, getting their California ID card and finding a therapist.