June, 24 2017

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Pilot program could pave way for youth drug court

BRADENTON - For two years, a pilot PROGRAM has allowed TROUBLED TEENS to have their day in court in an effort to tackle drug addiction.

Now, rehabilitation counselors and area criminal justice officials are working together to make juvenile drug court an established program in Manatee County.

Modeled after adult drug court, the TEEN offenders are on probation. Their offenses are usually petty drug-related crimes that range from possession to sale or use of drugs.

Those who steal to use or buy drugs must also face Circuit Judge Scott Brownell, who will set curfews, require them to undergo counseling sessions, meet school requirements and undergo random drug screens to ensure their lives get back on track.

"In all cases, parents are required to participate," said Brownell, who has sat on the juvenile drug court bench for the past two years.

About 45 TEENS have been through the PROGRAM in that time. Brownell estimates the number of teens who could participate would increase by 25 percent if the PROGRAM received the funding it needs to become an established PROGRAM.

The estimated $200,000 in federal funding would help hire additional counseling staff from Manatee Glens and branch out other services, Manatee County Drug Court director Alfred James said.

"On a shoestring budget, we're not able to provide all the services we'd like," he said.

For now, the pilot PROGRAM is a step in that direction to receive the funding. Because juvenile drug court runs a little different than the adult PROGRAM in terms of incentives and sanctions, counselors and officials need to make sure they have the training required to work with the TEENS before juvenile drug court can be official, officials explained.

"It's a whole new ball game in learning how to deal with the parents and the juvenile system is much different," said Cherie Gooding, assistant director of addiction services at Manatee Glens.

In 2003, 1,986 teenage boys and 992 teenage girls were arrested in Manatee County, officials said. There were 122 substance abuse-related arrests among the TEEN population.

The medical examiner's office reported two drug-related deaths among youths younger than 18 in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties in 2004.

Officials with Manatee Glens said treatment focuses on the individual and the family.

The judge, the public defender, the prosecutor, the treatment provider, the juvenile probation officer, the court administrator, law enforcement, the school and parents monitor the TEEN's progress during their time with the PROGRAM.

If the TEEN offender is successful, the criminal charges will be dismissed.

"We're trying to stop it at the beginning," James said about addiction problems, "before they get more in to it."

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