Hayden said they intend to have the courts up and running, accepting defendants, mid-way through 2017. And all without any additional cost to the five counties or their taxpayers.

The courts of Camden, Morgan, Miller, Laclede and Moniteau counties, under the umbrella of the 26th Judicial Circuit, are among just 22 of Missouri’s 114 counties that do not have an adult drug court.

But that list is about to get shorter, Judge Kenneth M. Hayden told the Lake Sun recently.

Two drug courts for the 26th circuit are in the initial planning stages. One each are planned in Camden and Morgan counties, but these two will serve all of the counties in the circuit.

Hayden said they intend to have the courts up and running, accepting defendants, mid-way through 2017. And all without any additional cost to the five counties or their taxpayers.

Given the circuit’s current resources, Hayden said the plan is to start off small by hosting one day of drug court per month with Hayden handling the docket in Morgan County and fellow Judge Stan Moore handling the docket in Camden County. Defendants from Miller and Moniteau counties will come to Morgan, located in Versailles, while those in Laclede will travel to the Camden court in Camdenton.

“We looked at it within the confines of the existing fiscal plans we had in each location. We’ll be able to do drug court without any additional facility, without any additional cost,” Hayden said. “It will basically be a payer-system — the folks that are in it, the defendants — it will be a combination of them qualifying for Medicare, having private insurance or paying part of that themselves. It won’t necessitate any additional clerks or staff.”

According to the Missouri Supreme Court Drug Courts Coordination Commission, drug or treatment courts “are a cost-effective method for diverting offenders from incarceration in prisons” and “lower the recidivism rate of offenders when compared with either incarceration or probation.”

“Most drug courts involve a four-stage process — first the assessment, what you want it to be and uniform throughout the counties, then you have the policies and procedures in place, followed by securing the partners involved in treatment and supervision of the defendants, and lastly you have to have the prosecutors and defense bars on board,” Hayden said. “Every drug court is a little different. We’re not Jackson or Greene County, we’re not Jefferson City or Columbia. The resources available to us are different from a treatment perspective. That’s why we don’t just jump in, we wouldn’t be prepared.”

As of Nov. 30, 2016, there were 141 treatment court programs within the state, including seven juvenile drug courts, 20 DWI courts, 11 family drug courts and 11 veterans courts with over 4,700 active participants and more than 17,800 graduates since 1993, according to the Drug Courts Coordinating Commission fact sheet.

“Potential incarceration cost savings or cost avoidance for 1,379 adult offenders diverted from state prisons is about $10 million,” the document, commissioned by its eight-member board, states. “Initially, drug courts are more expensive than regular probation. However, due to the higher recidivism rate for probation, savings result in the second year.”

Some of the benefits drug courts can provide, the commission reported, was allowing offenders to remain in their communities supporting their families and paying taxes, while reducing crime, the need for foster care and the number of babies born addicted to drugs, which ultimately saves millions of dollars of lifetime costs in healthcare and state provided services.

“Because of the time involved, we unfortunately won’t be able to have a drug court in each county, we just don’t have the judges yet. However, we are very pleased to have finally gotten another judge for the circuit. That certainly helps,” Hayden said.

The 26th circuit recently got a new circuit judge position. Judge Patricia Richardson was appointed late in 2016 as the third judge for the circuit after the Missouri General Assembly passed the enabling legislation for the additional position last year.

“You would not believe the Mahjong puzzle it is to take five counties, seven associate judges’ schedules, two existing circuit judges’ schedules, plus three or four senior judges’ schedules in some counties where you only have one or two courtrooms.”

It took about nine different drafts of schedules to get it where the judges wanted,” Hayden said.

“We’re just one of a handful of circuits statewide that doesn’t have a treatment court, Hayden said. “We will make due with what we got. We’re not going to rely on grant money or money from the state. Some drug courts have a commissioner, a paid position; you can make that request, but they’ll tell you they don’t have the money for it. I’m not doing that.”

The nine-year judge said initial planning meetings are starting in mid-January and will continue through the month with the goal of accepting defendants by mid-year, but did acknowledge the process and initial proceedings would be slow as judges and attorneys adjust to a new schedule.

“That’s something we’re very excited about,” Hayden said. “It’s something we’ve needed to do.”