Iowa Legislature funds two 'life-changing' drug courts - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Legislature funds two 'life-changing' drug courts

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The Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court met Thursday The Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court met Thursday

The Iowa Legislature has approved dollars to support two local drug courts this upcoming fiscal year, which starts Tuesday.

Drug courts help rehabilitate drug offenders, save money for taxpayers and make communities safer, advocates say.

The state opted last year to stop paying for the Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court and Black Hawk County Drug Court this current fiscal year. That led Black Hawk County's drug court to shut down, while private donations -- some $45,000 -- collected through Catholic Charities of Dubuque's Jail and Prison Ministry kept the former functioning.

This year, the Iowa Legislature appropriated $289,500 to fund the two drug courts, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Fred Scaletta confirmed. $88,600 of that is going to the Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court.

If the Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court hadn't continued through the generosity of community members, Kelly Burke wouldn't have graduated on Thursday.

After a year and a half in the drug court program, she finally completed it.

Reading a letter to a Dubuque County courtroom packed with supporters for her graduation ceremony, Burke said, "I've lost my freedom, my family, my children and, for a long time, myself to addiction."

Dozens of Burke's family members, friends, substance abuse counselors and Catholic Charities of Dubuque's Jail and Prison Ministry supporters all came to celebrate the occasion.

"This program has given me a chance to change my life," Burke said after the event. "It's had me look at myself in ways that I never would've thought to before, and it held me to a higher level of accountability than I've ever been held to before."

Drug offenders recommended for the program meet weekly before a judge. They also meet throughout the week with substance abuse counselors.

The judge grants participants more freedoms or imposes correctional actions, depending on how their week went. Burke said it's the near-constant accountability that kept her from returning to her addiction.

Many of the drug court participants are also living at home or in a halfway house, keeping the prison and jail populations lower.

More than two dozen people have graduated from the Dubuque-Delaware Counties Drug Court since it started in 2008.

District judge Michael Shubatt, who oversees the court, said he'd, "like to see it in as many communities as possible."

He said drug court ultimately makes entire communities safer and lightens the load on taxpayers.

"Drug court goes beyond the individual participants in the program," Shubatt said after Burke's graduation, "because it not only helps to keep them out of the system and cut down on recidivism and avoid institutional costs, but it also helps their family stay off of state aid and reduces the chance that it's going to be a generational effect on their family."

He said the Iowa Legislature returned to funding the two drug courts in part because advocates -- including Burke herself -- testified before legislators, asking for money for what they call a life-changing program.

With the successful completion of drug court, Burke looks forward to a bright and drug-free future.

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