COUDERSPORT — The Criminal Justice Advisory Committee heard of the success of the Potter County’s treatment courts during its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8.
The county’s treatment courts, which include DUI and drug, were established to “reduce recidivism by facilitating treatment and increased supervision of moderate to severe alcohol/substance users, as opposed to incarcerating them,” according to the county’s website. Potter County’s senior judge, John Leete, presides over the program. There have been almost 60 graduates.
“It’s been a joy over the years to see people take back their lives,” Leete said. He said he’s seen people do amazing things, including some recovery support groups that were started by treatment court graduates.
They celebrate everything in the program, Leete said. What might be a little victory to the general population could be a huge accomplishment for someone who is recovering from an addiction, he said. These victories could range from getting a valid ID to gaining employment or health insurance.
Liz Haskins, a certified recovery support specialist, was a graduate of the county’s DUI court. She said she had a rocky start but after a lot of hard work, she is now able to help other realize that recovery can happen for them, too.
“There’s more to recovery than not picking up a drink,” Haskins said. Her work takes a holistic approach to recovery.
“Being held accountable for your actions is an important part of criminal justice, but so are second chances,” she said. The criminal justice system has been supportive of people seeking recovery, she said.
There are currently 16 people in treatment court.
Andy Watson, Potter County district attorney, said it is cool to see the program participants smiling, thankful and sober in the courtroom; it’s often a different side of them that hasn’t previously been seen in court. The best part though is when they talk about their children and are rebuilding a healthy relationship with them, he said.
In a related conversation, Sargent Michael Murray, Coudersport-based State Police, said the troopers have seen an uptick in methamphetamine use. Meth is the current “drug of choice” in Potter County, as well as other rural counties, he said. He said people are not only buying meth from dealers, but some are making their own.
Heroin use has gone down, though it is still relevant and continues to be a problem. The state police have also seen an increase in psychedelics, he said.
There is still a lot of marijuana use in the county, though.
“Medical marijuana has made that worse,” Murray said. “Regular smokers suddenly have medical cards.”
The Criminal Justice Advisory Board also heard from Angela Chew, director of the Long-Term Structured Residential Facility operated through the Dickinson Center.
The LTSR facility is located in Brookville, Jefferson County and is designed to serve up to 16 “forensically involved adult males.” Its goals are to restore competency, stabilize psychiatric conditions and divert from inpatient and/or further incarceration due to mental health issues, among others.
It is an inpatient facility for male non-violent offenders who have a severe mental illness or severe psychosocial disability. The referral for the facility would come from a jail setting; the person would typically be eligible for hospitalization, but could receive care in the facility instead.
The residents will need to be voluntarily or civilly committed, Chew said, and will need to have a diagnosed mental health illness that is six months old or less. Because mental health illnesses are often seen with substance abuse, the facility is prepared for both, but mental health needs to be the primary reason.
The “northwest nine counties,” which include Potter and McKean, will all have access to this facility. Two beds are reserved for Potter County.
The next criminal justice advisory board meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 in the Potter County courthouse. The public is encouraged to attend.