‘Timing couldn’t be worse’: Deschutes DA, judge, program graduate dismayed by end of Adult Treatment Court
(Update: Adding video, comments from DA, judge, treatment graduates)
Program begun in 2020 has had 60% success rate, but stopped accepting new participants last year
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Deschutes County's Adult Treatment Court, which has been helping people overcome substance use disorder and transition into a place of stability, has stopped taking new participants for several months due to staffing and other challenges, and is likely to draw to a close by summer.
District Attorney Steve Gunnels has expressed dismay over the end of the long-time program, especially due to the sharp rise in use of deadly drug fentanyl. Nearly 30 people have been able to take part in the program each year.
“The timing of this couldn’t be worse," Gunnels said Wednesday. "We’re having overdose deaths every day, and the ending of this program will put more people at risk."
Gunnels has served as a prosecutor in the Adult Treatment Court since it began in 2010. The program has had roughly a 60 percent graduation rate, with over 120 participants.
"The program is important, because it brings people in who are addicted to drugs -- they’re at risk of losing their jobs, their children -- their whole lives, really, to drugs," Gunnels said. "It gives them an opportunity, it’s gives them treatment, and it gives them a chance to get their lives back on track."
Olen Grimes and Rhoda Parras successfully graduated from the 18-month treatment program, walking away from a history of methamphetamine, alcohol and other drugs.
"It was a game-changer for me, as far as it allowed to get clean and stay clean, and then everything else fell into place after that," Grimes said. "Throughout the process, I was able to strengthen my relationship with my teen daughter.”
Parras said, “They offered me prison or drug court. My whole life I got away with a lot of stuff and I lied and I cheated, and being in the system- it really helped me change all that, all that mentality.”
The treatment involves a number of substance use classes and behavioral therapy and it requires participants to appear in front of a judge, often weekly, to gauge progress.
Deschutes County Circuit Judge Raymond Crutchley, who plays a role is managing the treatment, said it's ending because it no longer meets state criteria, and no longer has a treatment coordinator.
“The treatment coordinator is the one that essentially meets with all the individuals who come into the program, would conduct an assessment, and using an assessment tool to see if they meet criteria," Crutchley said.
The cost of living in Central Oregon has made it a difficult position to fill, as it has so many in the region.
Gunnels said, “The housing market in Deschutes County is a big part of it, I think. It’s hard to recruit people from other places, because housing is so expensive."
Five people already in the program will be allowed to complete it, but there will be no new participants.
Crutchley said, “If you’re in recovery, it’s a life-long thing. It’s a life-long journey, and you need the resources to help you and tools to help you overcome all that."
The following statement was sent out to community stakeholders in June of 2022. Deschutes County Community Corrections received the grant that provides the funding for the program:
“Deschutes County Circuit Court and Deschutes County Community Corrections regret to announce that the Adult Treatment Court program will not be able to take any additional participants now or in the future. The program participants, professionals and participating organizations commit a significant amount of time and effort to achieve successful outcomes.
"It is not feasible to maintain the program for additional participants due to a combination of staffing challenges, program changes and transitions among the participating organizations. The program remains committed to helping the existing participants achieve their goals and graduate from the program,” the notice said.
One of three "specialty courts," Deschutes County Adult Treatment Court is a court-supervised treatment program.
"It incorporates a collaborative approach to provide participants with the skills and resources necessary to recover from a substance use disorder and become responsible and productive members of the community," the summary states. "The program is closely monitored by the court under the direction of the Adult Treatment Court Judge. The program is no longer accepting new participants."