Family drug court exits with regrets

A wonderful local program of human restoration has been lost to the times and the economic crisis that bedevils every corner of the nation.

The victim in this case is the Benton-Franklin County Family Dependency Treatment Court and the people it served so well.

Here is a first-class experiment that paid off.

But it was financed by a federal grant that simply ran out.

It helped rescue people in the clutches of meth and other near-suicidal dependencies and put them on a path back to rejoining society.

Everyone who touched the program was a fan, from former addicts to police officers to the court’s personnel and judges.

“No matter how rough a time I’ve had, I consider it a good day when it ends with a drug court graduation ceremony,” Ken Hohenberg, Kennewick’s chief of police, told the Herald last November.

Graduation of 14 people from the Family Dependency Treatment program is an achievement augmented by the fact that 31 children were reunited with their parents because of it.

That was, after all, the program’s purpose.

Graduates had to achieve a year of sobriety, have a stable home life and housing, and obtain a GED or continue their education toward a diploma if they lacked one.

Seven participants still were in the program but will not graduate because the federal funding has ended. But it is expected that those seven almost-graduates will be reunited with about the same number of children.

Sheila Davidson, coordinator of the program, told Herald reporter Laura Kate Zaichkin that among the participants, there had been a remarkable change, and that those for whom time had expired surely would have graduated.

“You can really see the change,” she told Zaichkin. “You can see the gaunt faces and just the sad eyes,” of participants when they first arrive.“Once they’ve completed the drug court program, they have healthy eyes,” she said.

That is a classic sign that their meth addiction has been defeated.

Adult and Juvenile Drug Courts are not closing. It only is the Family Dependency program that has run out of money.

But it does leave a hole in the drug prevention efforts of the two counties.

No one is happy about it.

“Both Benton and Franklin County commissions have been very supportive of the Drug Court programs,” said Sharon Paradis, administrator for the juvenile courts.

The money simply is not there, and the state, too, is having budget problems

“Sen. Jerome Delvin has been our champion,” Paradis said, fighting for the courts every year. The Richland Republican has been supported in those efforts by Reps. Larry Haler, R-Richland, and Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.

But the state’s budget shortfall is so severe this session that it was thought prudent not to ask for state money to support the family court this time.

In other words, getting an almost guaranteed “no” this session could make it easier for legislators to give another “no” later on.

There was a closing ceremony for the Family Dependency program in the Franklin County Historical courtroom this week.

Certificates of appreciation went to participants, team members, attorneys, members of the health department, guardians ad litem and others. If somber, the event also was full of hope for the graduates and those for whom the program ran out before their time was up.

It’s been a good thing.

We hope to see its return, when frugality is not so desperately needed that even excellent programs must be cut.