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PAXTON — Ford County probation department officials said they expect a $94,598 grant the county received this week to help maintain its newly created drug court program will also enable the program to expand.
Chief Probation Officer Cassy Taylor said that with the funding, she expects up to 10 people will eventually be able to participate in drug court — a program Ford County started in November 2011 to allow drug and alcohol addicts who are convicted of nonviolent crimes to avoid prison if they maintain their sobriety.
Two people are currently participating in Ford County’s drug court, which has been operated for the past nine months without any federal funding.
The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen this week announcing the awarding of the grant through the Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program.
Taylor said Friday that the grant is to be used between October 2012 and September 2015.
“Most of the money will be used to engage the clients in mental-health counseling and substance-abuse counseling,” Taylor said, adding that the funds will enable the county to add more drug court clients.
Until this week, the drug court program had been operated only with the help of community donations and a small fee that is assessed to people convicted in Ford County of traffic and criminal offenses.
Because too few funds were available, mental-health and substance-abuse counseling providers have been volunteering their services to treat drug court participants, Taylor said.
Ford County partners with Prairie Center Health Systems in Urbana and the Community Resource & Counseling Center in Paxton to provide addiction and mental-health counseling for drug court participants. Now that Ford County has the funding available, it will be able to pay those agencies for doing so, Taylor said.
“We’re hoping that this money can solidify our efforts to maintain our drug court and all our partnerships within our drug court,” Taylor said.
Taylor said she is not sure yet if the grant will fully fund the program for the next three years, but she said there is no doubt “it will help to maintain it.”
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “The drug court team has worked very hard to implement this program, and having these funds available will ensure that our hard work will be able to continue.”
The drug court is important to the Ford County community, Taylor said.
“The drug court helps our highest-risk clients who have addiction as their primary area of concern, so I would think that the community would be behind this,” she said.
Only people convicted of nonviolent offenses are eligible to participate in the program, which is designed to get them the help they need to overcome their addictions and become productive citizens. Completion of the program does not result in a conviction being removed from one’s record, but it does allow an offender to avoid prison.
The post-conviction program receives referrals from police and the Ford County State’s Attorneys’ Office. A “strict screening process” is then completed to determine if the person would be a good fit in the program.
“There is a strict screening process that involves cooperation from the addiction community, the state’s attorney’s office and the probation department and mental-health community,” Taylor said.
It can take up to two years to complete drug court, Taylor said. So far, no one has graduated from drug court in Ford County because the program is so new.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., announced the awarding of Ford County’s grant Friday.
“This funding will support programs in Ford County that transition nonviolent offenders back into their communities,” Durbin said. “This investment will help prevent at-risk individuals from turning to drugs or violence and will enhance public safety and the administration of justice in our communities.”