States are embracing problem solving courts to deal with increased drug arrests. Indiana is launching family recovery courts. Unlike drug courts, FRCs involve a civil, not criminal process.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We report next on an approach to the opioid crisis. Some states are turning toward what are called problem-solving courts, which help address underlying addiction issues. So-called family recovery courts attempt to keep families together while keeping defendants out of the regular criminal justice system. From our member station WBOI in Fort Wayne, Ind., Barb Anguiano reports.
BARB ANGUIANO, BYLINE: In 2017, Aaron O’Neil (ph) was in a central Indiana jail, for the second time, for crimes related to his addiction to prescription opiates. He was ready to start rehab when he found out his partner had overdosed and died and that could lead to him losing custody of his infant daughter. Instead, O'Neil was offered a place in family recovery court. He didn't know what that entailed but saw it as an effort to help him both with recovery and child custody.
At a busy coffee shop in his hometown of Marion, Ind., where he attended the court, O'Neil explains how important it was that the presiding judge cared about O'Neil's family.
AARON O’NEIL: First and foremost was the fact that it was based on your family. You know what I mean? They didn't just focus on your addiction. They want to help you with your addiction, but they want to help stabilize your home life, too.
ANGUIANO: He says the court helped coordinate everyday necessities like housing and child care, allowing him to focus on his recovery. He says it was easy to ask for help because he was in constant contact with both court officials and counselors. He calls the social safety net created by the court life-changing.
O’NEIL: When I first started, I just wanted to find a way to live a day-to-day life without using anymore. And after I had been in the program for a couple months, I wanted to change who I was as a person - be a better father, be a better provider. And they showed me ways to do that.
ANGUIANO: Family recovery court is a voluntary program. Families in it have children in danger of being removed from their homes specifically because of substance abuse.
ANGUIANO: Theresa Lemus works with the National Family and Drug Court Program (ph). She guides states on best practices for setting up family recovery courts across the country. There are now more than 500, in part because of the demand.
THERESA LEMUS: There's no way a family treatment court in any county or jurisdiction could serve all the families who come to the attention of child welfare because of a substance abuse issue.
ANGUIANO: Family recovery courts are often confused with drug courts, whose main focus is on keeping drug offenders out of jail. Family recovery courts aim to keep children safe and secure.
LEMUS: We count success in terms of the child and is that child able to remain home or go back home? Is that family going to avoid the child welfare system in the future? Those are successes.
ANGUIANO: Aaron O'Neil's case is considered a success. He has custody of all his kids and tells everyone he can about his positive experience with this court structure.
O’NEIL: The personalization of it makes the difference. You know what I mean? Taking who the person is, you know, and working on what part of their life drags them down the most and getting that weight off of them - you know, that personalization like that makes a world of difference.
ANGUIANO: O'Neil says family recovery court helped him keep custody of his kids and stay sober and drug-free. He says it also gave him something he was lacking - a strong sense of identity.