Chrystal Barclift was working as a supervisor in Juvenile Court when she got hooked on crack over five years ago. She lost her job, got busted, and found herself at Jail East, the women's correctional facility near Shelby Farms. There she was offered a choice: stay in jail or spend a year in rehabilitation in the drug-court program. If she chose rehabilitation, her charges would be dropped.
Barclift, now sober for more than a year and employed in the public defender's office, is one of the drug court's many success stories.
The drug-court program sentences non-violent drug offenders to a year in an outpatient drug-treatment program -- and pays for it -- in lieu of jail time. Clients must appear in the courtroom each week with evidence they've been attending treatment, submit to random drug tests, and meet with counselors. At the end of the year, their record is expunged.
"[Drug court] taught me accountability, responsibility, and coping skills," says Barclift, surrounded by proud family members after a drug-court ceremony last week to celebrate its 100th graduating class.
The program costs about $500,000 annually. Funding is provided by the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, state fines, contributions from clients, and other donations.
Tim Dwyer, the program's presiding judge, manages the program on a volunteer basis in addition to his regular docket. Drug court also pays for client treatment at area outpatient facilities and for things such as trade-school tuition or bus fare to and from treatment for those who cannot afford it.
But due to a shortage of funding, the program is not helping as many people as it could. Scarlett Crews, president of the Drug Court Foundation (the court's fund-raising arm), estimates that only 40 percent of drug offenders who would qualify for treatment can actually enroll in the program.
Despite that, the drug court has saved taxpayers $24.8 million in incarceration fees since its inception in 1997. It costs roughly $110 per inmate per day at the jail and only $8 per day for clients in treatment through the drug court.
"As of [last week's graduation], we've had 835 people who've gotten through it," says Crews. "The beauty is that we have a 23 percent recidivism rate, which means re-arrest or re-use. That's phenomenal."
The drug court will host a boxing match between Mayor W.W. Herenton and Joe Frazier at The Peabody on November 30th, and Crews says they're hoping the event will raise significant funds.
"Joe's a real character and the mayor's a real character, so we're not sure exactly what's going to happen," says Crews. "But it's going to be fun."