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Boone County prosecutor emphasizing use of treatment court, cracking down on drug dealers


The Boone County prosecutor's office is emphasizing Treatment Court for nonviolent drug possession cases.

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Roger Johnson said the goal is to make the community safer.

"Our goal really is to move nonviolent drug offenders into treatment and focus our resources on prosecuting violent offenders and drug dealers," Johnson said.

In a memo sent to staff, Johnson said simple, nonviolent possession cases will be moved from the criminal system to Treatmet Court, while drug dealers may need longer sentences to keep them off the street.

"While we will seek treatment for drug users, we will aggressively prosecute drug dealers," the memo states.

It says people will be recommended to Treatment Court in cases where the sole charge is possession of a controlled substance and when a defendant has a probation violation for new possession.

When it comes to drug dealers, Johnson said if it can be proven a dealer gave the drugs that resulted in death, they will be tried with murder.

"We know that in our community we have a really large number of people every year who are dying from drug overdoses," Johnson said. "We know that drug dealers, every time they sell, especially fentanyl, they know that they're putting somebody's life at risk."

The memo states drug distribution and trafficking cases shouldn't be changed to possession without authorization, and distribution cases are recommended to be at least five years without probation. Distribution cases involving fentanyl are recommended to be at least eight years and no probation.

"In drug cases, defendants can become eligible for parole after serving a small percentage of their sentence, and so longer sentences may be necessary to keep drug dealers off the street, especially repeat offenders," the memo states.

Treatment Court has been in Boone County for over 20 years, and Johnson said this is not a new partnership, but a new focus. He said the plans were announced to the judges in September. Since then, he said his office has been rolling out the new initiative and meeting with stakeholders.

Treatment Court Commissioner Casey Clevenger said it's still too early to tell what will be different about Treatment Court as the prosecutors office begins its new plan.

"I think that's still to be determined, I don't really know what (Johnson) has coming," Clevenger said. "We're here, we're available as a community option for sentencing. And if he's willing to give more people a chance at Treatment Court, we're here and we support that."

Clevenger was part of a Treatment Court graduation ceremony Thursday, where she celebrated 27 people graduating from the program.

One of those graduates is Westly Coleman, who said Treatment Court is the greatest opportunity he's been given in his life.

"It's helped save my life," Coleman said.

He said he had been abusing drugs since he was 13 years old, and was in and out of the system until he got this opportunity and a solid support system.

"(Treatment Court) is about building that foundation," Coleman said. "It's about creating a solid foundation for you to be successful in life. Not just with addiction, but within life."

Treatment Court is about a 14-month process that involves participants following a treatment plan, making regular court appearances, having random drug tests and meeting with their parole officers.

It's an umbrella of courts, including drug court, mental health court, veterans court and DWI court.

In 2021, 100 people were admitted into Boone County Treatment Court in 2021, with only 31 successfully completing the program, according to the 2021 Treatment Court Annual Report.

"We know that recovery is difficult for people and that the process they go through in drug court is effective," Johnson said. "Our long-term goal is to have people have availability of treatment so that they can get back engaged in their community, they can be employed, taking care of their kids and not engaged in crime, not dying from overdoses."

Johnson notes that for a lot of people, Treatment Court and the criminal justice system is the only treatment they are able to get due to cost or lack of support.

The memo sent to staff states if someone completes Treatment Court, they will be able to withdraw their plea and have their case dismissed.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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