EVERETT – She was an addict for 10 years.
Her drug of choice was methamphetamine, “and any other drug I could get a hold of,” she said.
Child Protective Services put her two children in foster homes and Celina Forget (pronounced For-Jay) lived in her car or wherever she could find a place.
When she was arrested for drug possession and faced jail and a felony record, she decided to do something about her life.
With the help of an intensive Snohomish County drug program commonly called Drug Court, the single mom put her life together, beat the addiction, got her kids back and is thriving with a job at a Lynnwood retail store.
Now, it’s likely that the number of people like Forget who can be helped by Drug Court will steadily drop.
The county’s judges have decided to reduce the number of people in the program from the current level of 150 to 75.
“Drug Court gave me the boundaries I needed to live life without illegal activity,” Forget said Tuesday. “Drug Court is the best thing that has ever happened to me as far as changing my life.”
The 34-year-old Marysville woman was required to undergo frequent drug testing and treatment, attend support group meetings and get a once-a-week report card from a Superior Court judge during Drug Court sessions.
The decision to gradually reduce the number of people in the program was not an easy one, said Judge George Bowen, who heads the Drug Court program. He acknowledges that a client load of 200 or 300 could be met if enough money were available.
The program has one full-time coordinator who works a big caseload, including initial interviews, with the help of an intern.
“With the departure of an unpaid intern earlier this year, we simply have no choice but to reduce the number of active participants so we can operate within available resources,” Bowden said May 7 in a letter announcing the freeze on new participants.
In an interview, he said, “It became very apparent that we were working our coordinator into the ground.”
He’s not the only one disheartened.
“I’m very upset by it because a lot of people who want to get in (Drug Court) won’t be able to get in now,” said Marybeth Dingledy, a public defender who participates and represents those enrolled.
“It’s bad news because there are a lot of people who would benefit from the program in a number of ways – by getting their lives back on track, by keeping a felony off their record, by creating a future for themselves,” Dingledy said. “Now they don’t have a chance.”
A deputy prosecutor, Tim Geraghty, who also monitors Drug Court participants, said there’s a big need for the program. Participants are much less likely to commit a crime to get money for a quick fix.
“I feel bad for the people who want treatment and kind of need the carrot of Drug Court to convince them to become clean and sober so they become contributing members of society,” Geraghty said. “Here’s a program that works, and there’s a need for it.”
It does work, Bowden said.
Of the 257 people who have graduated from the program over the years, only 17 have committed new crimes, about a 94 percent success rate.
The judges made getting a second coordinator an emphasis in last year’s county budget request, but the money was cut. Bob Terwilliger, court administrator, said the judges will make another attempt this year to get additional funding from the Snohomish County Council.
At the least, Bowden said the second coordinator again will be a priority in the 2008 budget request.
It costs the county an average of $7,350 for each participant over a 17-month program. The program is supported through county, state and federal money.
In the long run, Bowden said, the program saves a lot of money in prosecution and incarceration. There are intangible benefits, too, such as saving the cost of criminal acts on the street, getting people off welfare and having them earning a living and paying taxes.
Those now who have signed up for the program – about 60 or 70 – will be able to continue. It may take a year or more to get down to the goal of 75 through successful graduations or people dropping out or being kicked out.
Graduate Forget said Drug Court helped her develop positive habits, ones she’s trying to pass on to her two children.
“It’s discouraging that they don’t have the funding for 300 people because that’s 300 people not out in the community committing crimes,” Forget said. “I learned to think before I act. It gave me a reason to stay off drugs.”