By: Amanda Taylor, News 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the United States.
Currently, approximately 28,000 adults crowd our prisons and nearly half of them, 46 percent, have a substance abuse problem. Skye Rice was one of them.
“I really honestly believed that I was going to die a drug addict’s sad death, that I was going to die with the needle hanging out of my arm,” she said.
Supporting her addiction to heroin, she started with petty theft and eventually got busted for writing fake prescriptions.
“I didn’t want to steal from people that worked hard for what they had, I didn’t want to be that person,” she said.
Assistant District Attorney Heather Coyle said they’ve seen a rise in criminal cases.
One program in our state offers an alternative; recovery instead of criminal prosecution while saving the state thousands of dollars.
“Really the root of them appears to be substance abuse and mental health issues that have gone unaddressed,” Coyle said. “They would get a sentence anywhere from two to life.”
Until drug court, a program allowing addicted low level offenders to go to rehab instead of jail.
“If they’re not successful then they go to prison,” Coyle said.
Currently, there are 320 drug court participants, who pleaded guilty to their crimes and then signed up to go through an intensive drug and alcohol treatment program. They check-in before the judge to show they are staying clean and sober.
“If you lock someone up and throw away the key like we’ve incarcerated so many people in our state, they’re not going to get better,” said Ann Simank, with OKC Metro Alliance. “This gives a person a chance to go through a recovery program and get their lives together rather than taking up expensive jail space.”
It costs $48 a day to house an inmate in prison compared to less than $15 in a recovery program. With the current numbers that saves the state approximately $4.8 million a year.
“There were several times when I tried to stop drinking or smoking meth and I couldn’t,” said Dedrick Perkins, a recovering drug addict.
Perkins said he beat his addictions at First Step, one of the in-patient treatment facilities used by drug court. Just five miles away, is a similar facility for women where Charmecia Robinson graduated.
“When you think about where you came from and you look at what you have now, it’s like I can’t give up,” said Robinson.
Rice says she never expected to get clean.
“Even when I pled into drug court, I had every intention of going back to doing what I as doing,” she said.
However, through her rehab, she started to see a way out.
“It was about in phase three when I realized wow, there is life outside of drugs,” she said. “I don’t have to continue living in misery.”
“Being here allowed me to being able to love myself and also love other people,” Perkins said.
“It makes you think about what you’ve been through when you see these people come through and you’re like that used to be me,” said Robinson.
Coyle said the program has a 68 to 70 percent success rate.
“The community gains a lot because they are now productive citizens with jobs,” said Coyle.
“Sometimes people do not make it but I’ll tell you what, when you see a person that gets on their feet and they’ve changed and they have their children back and they have a home, a job or their going to community college, it makes it all worth it,” said Simank. “It’s wonderful. It can be uplifting.”
The drug court program has existed in Oklahoma County since 1997. It takes 18 months to three years to complete. If the drug court participants succeed, their cases are dismissed. If they fail, participants will have to serve their original sentences.