Guest Blog (Donna Coffey): Drug courts provide hope and make a difference

Donna Coffey is the McCurtain County Drug Court Administrator in Oklahoma.  She has been with the program since its implementation in June 2003, under the direction of District Judge Willard L. Driesel.

Oklahoma Drug Courts – hope for a brighter future for thousands of drug addicted felons, hope for an overcrowded prison system, and hope for the taxpayers who support the enormous cost of imprisoned felons.

The sight of a new participant pleading in to drug court is heart wrenching.  Some are there with family support, some are there with nothing, but all are there with the same look of hopelessness, helplessness, and fear.  Years of substance abuse, mental health issues, incarceration, and rejection have taken their toll and the uncertainty of what drug court will bring only adds to the level of anxiety.  Such is the condition of many Oklahomans.

Changes soon begin, however, with attention from counselors, case managers, and supervision personnel that includes a deputy who actually visits the home regularly without making an arrest!  Years of shame and guilt begin to subside and the anxiety level drops as participants learn that it’s okay to talk about their addiction and the events that led to it.  The dull eyes begin to brighten.

Then there’s the community support.  Some businesses will not hire felons, but there are others who, thankfully, will.  Rural drug courts, even in the poorest counties of the state, do have employers who are willing to hire drug court participants and sometimes even prefer hiring them because of the mandatory drug testing and supervision.  Jobs provide the ability to pay court fines and restitution.  Jobs also give participants the capacity to start paying the debts that have piled up during their addiction, to purchase a vehicle for transportation, and to become responsible for themselves.  The process of becoming a productive member of the community has begun.

Participants start the reunification process with children and/or family members.  Parenting classes, anger management classes, support groups, and many other positive components are teaching and building self-esteem in participants.  Children move out of foster homes, or out of grandma’s home, and back with their parents.  The family unit becomes whole.

This is the process of recovery for a drug court participant.  What’s the reward for Oklahoma? According to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the cost of the program is only one quarter of the cost for incarceration – approximately $5,000 per person for drug court compared to $19,000 spent by DOC.  The re-arrest rate for a drug court graduate is better than that of an individual on probation – 23.5 percent compared to 38.2 percent — and substantially better than the 54.3 percent for an inmate who has simply served out his sentence.

Spend less and get better results.

What’s the reward for the thousands of drug court participants in Oklahoma – the opportunity for a new life.  Priceless!

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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