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Efforts underway to reform Oklahoma County drug court - 1/9/2020

On a recent Monday morning, roughly 30 drug court participants filed into Oklahoma County Judge Kenneth Stoner’s courtroom.

To start the docket, Stoner talked about not using cough syrup or Nyquil, which can make a urinalysis positive for alcohol, discussed the importance of New Year’s resolutions and then pulled out a speaker to play "Eye of the Tiger."

“The best motivation to be in this program is that you want to build a new life for yourself that is exactly what you want it to be,” Stoner said. “Now let’s get the party started.”

The music served as the walk-up song for a man graduating from the program — a feat that can take years, thousands of dollars and countless hours in therapy, treatment and court.

Amid claps, the man walked to the front of the courtroom to give a speech.

“I want to start by saying how thankful I am for this program,” he said. “It saved my life … . This is the first time I’ve ever felt normal. This is the happiest I’ve been in my life since I was a kid.”

Since Stoner took over the drug court program in February 2018, various reforms have shifted the focus toward new incentives and creative sanctions outside of just sending someone to jail for a failed urinalysis, missed treatment or other infraction.

Between July 2018 to July 2019, jail days decreased 65% from the same time period the year before, according to numbers provided to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council.

That decrease was estimated to save Oklahoma County about $74,000 in jail costs associated with sanctions from the program.

“He has set up a way of increasing the severity of sanctions and using jail as an ultimate consequence instead of the first tool,” said Tim Tardibono, executive director of advisory council. “By doing that, he is keeping people out of jail, in the program and moving toward success. That results in people breaking addiction, keeping jobs and at home with their families.” 

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