Drug Court is in session

Drug Court is in session
December 14
04:00 2017

This month, Forsyth County’s Drug Treatment Court held its first session in hopes that it’ll help those with substance abuse issues on the long road to recovery.

It’s a return for the county’s adult drug court, which previously lasted 15 years before it ended in 2011 when its state funding was cut.  District Court Judge Lawrence Fine presided over that court and has returned for the new one. Back then, crack and meth were the major drugs. This time opioids have become a nationwide epidemic.

The court is a sentencing alternative for those with drug charges. Its focus is treatment and helping participants kick their addiction. They’re tested several times a week. Progress is rewarded with incentives while relapses may result in sanctions. Fine said he knows things will sometimes “go sideways” for participants and the program will see them though that.

“This court will be different from any court you have ever been in because this is a collaborative effort,” Fine tells new participants.

He said the first session was a positive one. All four initial participants showed up with more being referred. Fine said he wanted to get a few sessions in before the holidays because that can be a tough time for those recovering from substance abuse.

Participants will spend at least a year in the program. Fine said that graduations during the last court were uplifting as participants reunited with family members they’d alienated during their addiction.

Kerri Sigler is representing participants as a pro bono attorney. She’s worked many long months to see drug court return. She says it’s not a slap on the wrist for offenders, but an attempt to be “smart on crime.”

“The criminal justice system does not need harsher punishments,” she said. “The criminal justice system does not need lighter punishments. The criminal justice system needs smarter sentencing. Sentencing needs to identify a problem and solve it, and if you do that in your sentencing, you will lower crime because you will have solved the problem that creates it.”

Sigler said, like many at the Hall of Justice, she’s known people who died from overdosing on opioids. She said they’ve lost a lot of human capital to the epidemic. The scope of the crisis is just starting to be felt, as many children are losing their parents to either death or prison.

Sigler started a nonprofit called Phoenix Rising that’s raised close to $35,000 for the court. The City of Winston-Salem has contributed an additional $35,000 and Forsyth County will consider a request for the same amount during its budget deliberations for next fiscal year. If the county contributes the funds, the court will have full funding, which covers specialized drug testing, incentives and educational services like a searchable database of drug treatment options on Phoenix Rising’s website.

The funding also goes to the court’s coordinator position, which has been filled by Curtis Graham, who does regular check-ins with participants and keeps track of their progress. Graham works for Insight Human Services, which will provides services for them, including a food pantry and assistance finding stable housing.

Graham said that the court and resources are there to help people who want to change.

“I think they’re willing to do this, I think they’re open, I think they’re wanting to do this,” he said.

Judge Denise Hartsfield is the substitute judge for the court if Fine is unavailable. She presided over Juvenile Drug Court until its grant funding ran out last year. She said that she plans to get local law students involved in mentoring court participants. She hopes the community will get behind the new court and make it a success.

For more information about Phoenix Rising,  go to

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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