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Elkhart County Drug Court seeing success 6 months in

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Elkhart County's Drug Court is in session. This week marks six months since it opened in January. While it is still too early to measure its success, there are more than a dozen people already participating.

Lorie Simmons knows what it means to be lost.

“I have lots of experience in that department,” says Simmons. She started using drugs at age 13 and spent decades as an addict.

“My drug of choice was crack cocaine,” says Simmons.

Now, she is 18 months sober, working with Oaklawn to help others find recovery and says she has St Joseph County's Drug Court to thank.

“I just gave in and did what they told me to do,” says Simmons.

Stories like Simmons are what we could soon start seeing out of Elkhart County which began its drug court program in January.

“They want to be clean and sober they just need that out and help to do so,” says Tara Paiano who runs Elkhart County’s new program.

Paiano is the Drug Court Coordinator and the person who works closest with the people who are participating in the program. Right now, there are 16 active participants. 9 people are pending the application process.

Drug court allows nonviolent offenders with substance abuse issues to avoid jail in exchange for treatment and supervision. Usually, the criminal offenses are drug related. The drug court team extends an invite for these people to participate and they will plead into the court.

Elkhart County's drug court team -- which includes a judge, lawyers, treatment specialists and others -- meets weekly to talk about the participant’s needs.

“And then through that, we try to come up with a program that is designed specifically for the needs of that particular participant. We tell them what the expectations are, they plead into court and then we put it into practice,” says Elkhart County Drug Court Judge, Gretchen Lund.

The court's main goal is not punishment, but rather, treatment. It has worked across the country. Research shows people who graduate from drug court are less likely to be arrested again.

“I think the real issue is, folks that have a substance abuse issue that we can address or help them treat and get them back to contribute to our local community I think that is what we are going for,” says Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Bill LaFleur.

Elkhart County modeled its program after the Drug Court in St Joseph County and other areas.

Offenders have to participate at least 18 months before they complete the program and graduate. That is why it takes a few years to gauge the success of a program.

Simmons is proof drug courts can change lives.

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“It gave me the opportunity to be free,” she says.

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