Judge Dickson 'saw the need' for district drug court
Woodford District Judge Vanessa Dickson views drug court as an opportunity to help someone with an addiction before they're facing serious felony charges and stiffer penalties in Woodford Circuit Court. "I definitely saw the need in district court - people that I could see" needed help based on their criminal history, said Dickson. She described drug court as a way to help people help themselves. "I think the idea of being able to place users in treatment programs much quicker . we're going to start seeing that a lot more than we used to," said Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw, whose office prosecutes criminal cases in Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties. "Not everybody's a success in drug court, but there've been a lot of success stories." A drug court team - consisting of the judge, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers - identifies treatment options, provides a structure for accountability and makes decisions about "what in your life needs to change in order for you to be a successful, sober person," Dickson said. "Those kinds of resources need to be targeted to the people that need them the most. And that's what drug court lets you do," she added. Of the six or seven people who have been accepted in Woodford County's district drug court since it began more than a year ago, Dickson said only one did not successfully complete the program. Two will graduate this summer. She said the number of success stories speak for themselves. "It's a wonderful experience for the people involved," said Dickson. "And I can't tell you how rewarding it is for me to see people able to get their lives back." On a regular district court docket, Dickson cannot address the individual needs of someone trying to achieve sobriety in their life, she said. A district judge handles an average of 8,000 cases a year. As a result of her heavy caseload, Dickson conducts drug court during her lunch hour twice a month. The drug court team meets prior to the actual hearings for participants, who must learn how to live a drug-free life. "Drug addicts have to reconnect with who they really are deep down inside, and the good part that's there," said Dickson, "and watching people do that is just the most rewarding thing on earth." Figuring out what will motivate a drug addict to make the right decision has its challenges, but Dickson said drug court gives "you the time to really learn about a person and . what will help them turn their lives back on." Dickson said this understanding does not happen on day one for someone who has gotten accustomed to lying and blaming someone else for their bad decisions. "It takes a long time to unlearn those bad behaviors," she said.