Drug court approaches 15 years of community work, celebrates new graduate

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HANCOCK COUNTY — She was all smiles, and so was everyone standing with her during a graduation celebration at the Hancock County Courthouse. Lisa Kane has taken concrete steps forward by grabbing control of her life, with the help from county officials whose goal is to rehabilitate addicts.

Kane, 42, Greenfield, was the 101st person to graduate from the county’s drug court program. After two years of rehabilitation, including passing nearly 100 drug tests after a 10-year addiction to cocaine and heroin, Kane earned her certificate and graduated on Friday afternoon in Hancock Circuit Court.

“We have a real celebration today, and each one of you can do the same thing she’s done,” said Judge Scott Sirk, in encouragement to the other drug court participants who were attending the ceremony.

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Kane is free to get on with her life and will no longer be on probation. With most of her family present, Kane told the court how thankful she was for every opportunity county officials gave her to make positive — and perhaps life-saving — changes.

“They helped me re-wire my mind so I could get my life back,” Kane said. “I’m like a whole different person now.”

A total of 238 people have been accepted into the county’s drug court program since its inception under Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver in 2004. Eighteen people are currently taking part following Kane’s graduation, said Beth Ingle, the program’s coordinator.

One of the biggest obstacles addicts face is sticking with the program and not relapsing. But hard work and help from the program make celebrations like the one they held for Kane memorable.

“She thought she was too old to make a change,” Ingle said. “But, six months into the program, something really clicked for her.”

15 years and growing

This November, the county’s drug court program will celebrate 15 years of community service, and those in charge want to make sure it continues to grow. They help people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction understand they can build a better life by showing them steps they can take to overcome their destructive behavior.

The program was originally created to help people who were repeatedly arrested for driving while intoxicated, but as drug arrests have increased in the county, officials have shifted to also addressing that crisis.

When Sirk was elected judge, one of his goals was to stress rehabilitation for drug addicts through drug court and the heroin protocol program. During the ceremony, Sirk reminded the others going through the program that their lives would reflect their actions. He implored them to try and live a virtuous life.

“You need to let justice, temperance, courage and prudence be a guiding force in your lives like Lisa has,” Sirk told them. “She’s a Hall of Famer.”

The team working with Sirk and Ingle include Prosecutor Brent Eaton; Sheriff Brad Burkhart; Jeff Rasch, chief of the Greenfield Police Department; Gary O’Neal, drug court field officer; and several others.

Eaton, who once defended Kane at a time in his career when he was handling defense cases, said it’s been good to see Kane reach the point in her life where she’s making positive decisions for herself, because that, in turn, is good for public safety.

“Drug court is an effective crime reduction program because people who are sober are much less likely to engage in illegal behavior,” Eaton said. “Morally, we have to think that people can be redeemed.”

County officials say they are working hard to keep drug court moving forward and are committed to helping people change their lives by holding them accountable.

“I took advantage of all the programs they offered,” Kane said. “You have to do the work and yeah, it’s hard.”

Some of the steps law enforcement officials have taken to make sure drug court is successful include incorporating more counseling and making medications, like the opioid blocker Vivitrol, available to those who would like to try it.

“Drug court really works, and the people working for the program are really there to help,” O’Neal said.

Learning from others

Officials running the drug court program attended a conference put on by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Washington, D.C., early this summer. It was paid for via a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Ingle was reminded that drug court deals with the highest-risk and the highest-need offenders.

Some of the strategy and tactics are based in science. For example, participants learned that an addict’s brain still shows signs of addiction even after a year of sobriety. Such knowledge can help them better deal with people struggling in the program trying to recover.

As a result of the recent conference, Sirk said he plans to start meeting with each member of the drug court program to seek more feedback and get suggestions.

“You can never stop learning,” Sirk said. “I always want us to be better and stay up to date, and the conference has the ability to help us to do that.”

O’Neal said it would be ideal if somehow the county could provide a rehabilitation house for men, much like the Talitha Koum House for women, which opened last year on Main Street in Greenfield.

In order to make sure the program continues to improve and receive grant money, Ingle keeps in touch with graduates like Kane for three years following graduation from drug court just to make sure all is going well. However, the chances of a person who graduates from the program winding up back in jail is low, Ingle said, noting a 76 percent success rate.

That’s something Kane’s youngest son, 16 year-old Wesley Kane, is counting on. He’s been living with his grandparents for the past 10 years and was present to watch his mother receive her graduation certificate. He said it’s been rewarding watching her change from the person who was addicted to drugs into a mom he can count on.

“She’s building a house and setting up a real life, and I can’t wait to move in with her,” he said.

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Members of the Hancock County Drug Court Team: 

Scott Sirk, Hancock Circuit Court judge 

Brent Eaton, Hancock County prosecutor

Beth Ingle, drug court coordinator

Gary O’Neal, drug court field officer

Jeff Rasche, Greenfield chief of police

Brad Burkhart, Hancock County sheriff

Jon Keyes, public defender

Melissa Jack, Families First

Amber Kendall, Families First

Melissa Davis, Gallahue Mental Health

Amy Ikerd, Hancock County probation

Kevin Minnick, Hancock County probation

Nick Layman, Hancock County probation

Tyler Haney, Hancock County probation

Erin Davis, Hancock County probation

Terri Neal, Hancock County prosecutor’s office

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"They helped me re-wire my mind so I could get my life back. I’m like a whole different person now."

Lisa Kane, on how drug court helped her battle addiction

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