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Juvenile drug court threatened due to dwindling grant funds

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By Johnathan Ryan

There's a threat to a county program that has done some good for Lancaster County teenagers addicted to drugs.

The Lancaster County Drug Court, a program financed mainly through state and federal grants since its inception in 2003, is facing an all-time success rate but also a funding crunch.

The grant sources are dwindling each year, making it harder to operate, said drug court coordinator Jeff Phillips.

Phillips gave Lancaster County Council an update on the progress of the program on Dec. 3, just after learning the program wouldn't be awarded a $40,000 grant it had hoped to receive.

Phillips now expects to meet with County Administrator Steve Willis to discuss possible funding means through the county. He would like to see Lancaster County pick up some of the tab.

"I figure this will probably save the county some money later on if we treat these kids now," he said, referring to the economic and social costs of adult criminals. "You have to invest a little bit at first to save on the other end later on."

Through a treatment-method and moral-recognition program, the drug court and its partner agencies try to root out addiction. Once successful, they work together to help the juveniles achieve academic and social successes, intended to discourage relapses.

"It's an intense outpatient treatment program," Phillips said. "We also try to fix other things in their lives."

Phillips told council about the court's success rate in the last fiscal year. About 53 percent of recent participants completed the program with no relapses and no fresh criminal charges. Only 21 percent of the juveniles received new criminal (drug) charges.

The participants come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and are looking for something to supplant their addiction, Phillips said. Many of them abuse substances to fill a void, such as perceived shortcomings or when trying to forget an abusive upbringing, he said.

"Most of them aren't bad children. They just have an addiction problem," he said.

Coreen Khoury, the juvenile drug court judge, said the program is "outstanding."

She said some of the participants have done amazing things, noting that one 12th-grader earned straight A's last semester and has been out of trouble for a while.

As judge, Khoury hears every Thursday how well participants are progressing from Phillips, a prosecutor, a public defender and others involved in the treatment continuum.

The decision then rests with Khoury to reprimand the person for poor performance or reward him or her for good performance, such as with a gift card or retail gift.

"We don't necessarily think they shouldn't be on good behavior anyway without getting a reward, but many of them need extra praise," Khoury said. "We can all use a bear hug sometimes."

She said she'd like to see a similar program for adult addicts.

Contact Johnathan Ryan

at 416-8416

or jryan@thelancasternews.com