The morning of Oct. 17 was a special one for Judge Kenneth Hayden. It marked the first graduation of the 26th Circuit's Treatment Court for defendants in Morgan, Miller and Moniteau County.
After two years of dedication to changing her life, a Moniteau County woman, who will remain unnamed, earned a certificate of completion, a plaque in her honor and commemorative coin: all to remind her of her fresh start in life.
"Your grit and determination will help you make it," Judge Hayden told her. "I'm so thankful you were here and we're all so proud of everything you've done to be here with us today. I know you will do great things in your life."
In 2017, Judge Hayden and other members of the court in the 26th circuit worked together to form a treatment court to give repeat drug and substance abuse offenders an alternative to incarceration. The plan was the take five participants from the three counties of Miller, Moniteau and Morgan, a region Hayden calls "the three M's," who may be referred to the program through their prosecuting attorney. A conversation between the district and prosecuting attorneys determines whether the person could benefit from treatment court. If the decision is passed, the participant may begin a screening process and ultimately is assessed by a behavioral healthcare center. Once this is complete, the defendant may enter the program.
Last year, the program was still in the infancy stage. About ten participants spent a morning each month seated before Judge Hayden in the courtroom of the Morgan County Justice Center waiting to give him updates about how the last month had been treating them. Before court begins, Hayden and his team meet to discuss what the past month has looked like for each defendant. This leads to a much more personal approach to each participant's treatment. The 18-24 month program sees high-risk and high-need participants utilize resources spanning from group therapy sessions, one-on-one counseling sessions and visits with a treatment team.
During the court process for each offender, five phases must be worked through to complete the program. The first phase takes about two months of intensive work with probation and parole officers. Once progress has been made, they advance to the second phase. Phases two through five last about four to six months, depending on the progress of each participant. This progress depends entirely on the defendant.
"Everyone gets where they are from what they do," Hayden said. "This entire process is just about breaking the cycle of addiction. We know it isn't easy, but some say it's the best thing they've done in their lives."
The entire idea is to reduce the risk of recidivism, or the tendency of offenders to re-offend and end up incarcerated again.
Considerable progress has been made in the year since the California Democrat visited the court proceedings.
"We've been able to hire a treatment court administrator who helps us," Judge Hayden said. "Last year we only talked about starting a DWI and Veterans court, but today we have about 50 participants all together. They meet once a month in Camden County and their process is very similar to how we run things here."
The "fledgling program" is still growing, but as Hayden and his court grow along with their plans, something seems to be working. Just next month, Hayden said the court will see three more graduates.
"All in all, it's just heartwarming to watch these guys change," Hayden said. "They're so proud of themselves and I have so much faith that because they want to change, they will make that happen for themselves."