Newly appointed Criminal Court Judge Amanda Dunn was the speaker for the Civitan Club on Friday. From left are Jim Robbins, Gary Napolitan, Judge Dunn, attorney Neal Thompson (program chairman) and Bob Robbins.
Amanda Dunn’s first speaking engagement, after being appointed by Governor Bill Lee as the 11th Judicial District Criminal Court Judge in Hamilton County, was to the Chattanooga Civitan Club. Although the county has many other problems including an increasing homeless population and increasing gun violence, it was the increase of new and deadly drugs and the Drug Recovery Court that she spoke about.
Judge Dunn was familiar with benefits from the Drug Recovery Court that was started by Judge Rebecca Stern, from her past job as a defense attorney.
That court was taken over and expanded by Judge Tom Greenholtz, she said. It now also has the support of Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp and Governor Bill Lee, who is interested in reform and rehabilitation.
This program is the last stop for drug felonies and thefts. They go together because thefts are common to obtain narcotics, she said. In the past, the Drug Court relied on public agencies, but there are not enough to deal with the substance abuse programs that are needed. So a new development is that the Drug Court will have its own outpatient rehabilitation facilities and will provide counseling to the clients.
The procedure to participate in the program is that a person in Drug Court pleads guilty and there is no wait to get into treatment. Traditionally that would have taken a long time to enter because the substance abuse systems are overworked, she said. Instead, the new system starts immediately, giving the individual no time to get in trouble. This court is only for non-violent offenders and no sex offenders will be admitted.
One goal of this program is trying to prevent re-offenders. She said that stopping the problem helps not only the person being treated but also their families and their children who have often tried themselves to give support. It improves the lives of everyone who has been trying to care for the individual, she said.
Judges cannot stop people from buying drugs, but they can handle it through the Tennessee Department of Corrections or can offer treatment by sending people for mental health treatments. Judges provide sanctions by requiring accountability. Education has to be the way to prevent drug use, she said, because access is hard to eliminate. Now schools are providing some education about drugs. But parental involvement is also needed and that is where there are problems, she said. The discussions have to be reinforced somewhere and it is difficult where there is no family involvement. When that is the case, one place that help can come from is the Boys and Girls Clubs.
The source of illegal drugs is most often from people who know one another, said Judge Dunn. She said that in most cases the law enforcement agents also know the dealer, even down to the nicknames that they go by. Everybody knows who the drug dealers are, but those people can continue selling while the law is building a case. It is especially plentiful in the Chattanooga area because of easy access with I-75 running through the city.
Currently, she said there are 61 people receiving treatment from the Drug Court. The goal is to increase the number as this is the last chance for those people who enroll. She said that those who apply know it will be a big commitment, and a significant invasion into their lives. The court will have 24-7 access to that person’s phone and they will have to wear a GPS monitor, among other restrictions. The program lasts from 16-24 months. She said that the long-term success rate is unknown now, but believed to be over 50 percent. Some drugs are harder to recover from and have a high occurrence of a relapse, so people in this program must be in it for the long-term to achieve success, she said.
The program is funded with money from Hamilton County, the state and federal grants. She said there are a lot of agencies to be accountable to, and taxpayers should know that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
Judge Dunn said that Cody Wamp, the county’s new district attorney is planning to change polices and have more jury trials to deal with these offenses.