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Starting a new life

Reentry Center graduate completes drug court program

By Fran Gonzalez | Mar 24, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Paul Cote, left, and his former Restorative Justice Project mentor, David Dancy of Waldo, at the Hancock County Superior Court March 6 prior to Cote's graduation from Adult Drug Treatment Court.

Ellsworth — “This is the end of it,” Paul Cote said before entering the courtroom at the Hancock County Superior Courthouse March 6. “It starts now.”

Cote, along with another program enrollee, graduated from Adult Drug Treatment Court in Ellsworth on this day. For Cote, it took approximately 18 months of specialized team-based treatment to complete his program requirements.

There are currently nine specialty courts in the state treating habitual drug offenders: five ADTCs, three Family Treatment Drug Courts, and one Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans Court.

Each ADTC is a supervised program for selected, nonviolent defendants with significant substance abuse problems. In exchange for a guilty plea, sentencing is deferred and defendants are diverted from jail while a multi-disciplinary team provides strict supervision and oversees outpatient treatment for at least one year.

As long as individuals comply with the program’s requirements, they receive treatment while living and working in the community. Following graduation, their sentence is greatly reduced.

Speaking to 15 other program participants at his graduation at the courthouse, Cote acknowledged the help and support he received from the drug court team and from his peers.

“It can be done,” he said of putting addiction and its effects on one's life behind oneself.

As part of his personalized program, Cote met with the judge and court team every two weeks to discuss his progress; he called the courthouse daily to see if there was a drug test administered that day and met weekly with a case manager.

He attends Narcotics Anonymous and group treatment sessions, abstains from drugs and alcohol, and avoids places where they are served. He also has a curfew and has performed community service.

Cote is a Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center graduate. He said that, after finishing the program about three years ago and getting off probation, he had a setback.

“I got off probation and went right back on the same road,” he said. Cote was arrested and received a trafficking charge. While incarcerated, he signed up for drug court and was accepted.

At the March 6 court date, the judge asked each of the 16 individuals in the program how they were doing. “I learned how to process my feelings and emotions and about relapse prevention,” one participant said. “I know how to reach out for help and how to be a good worker."

One participant said he had learned about helping others by filling holes on his street with gravel. “I had everyone on my street thank me,” he said.

The judge grilled one individual about testing positive for Ritalin. “It’s the dishonesty part that gets us,” the judge said. “Now is the time to come clean. Move forward and don’t dwell on the past.”

“Paul,” one participant said, addressing Cote, “Congratulations. I love you, brother. You’ve been a big mentor to me.”

After each person finished, the judge asked, “How many days?”

“224 days sober,” “Six months, three days sober,”  “Seven months, 27 days sober,” “Eight months, one day,” came the replies.

Helping prevent recidivism

Drug courts began in 2001 and currently operate in six counties across the state: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Penobscot, Hancock, Washington and York. The cases involve high-risk or high-need offenders with the goals of holding participants accountable, reducing recidivism and reducing their alcohol and drug dependency.

The program also helps participants develop personal skills to become productive citizens through employment, positive community activities, and healthy and safe family relationships.

The most recent numbers from the 2019 Annual Report on Maine’s Drug Treatment Courts noted a total of 295 participants in drug courts statewide, an increase of 11.3% over the previous year, and the largest number of participants in any calendar year.

Last year, there were 70 graduations from the programs, an increase of 7.6% over the previous year, and the total number of terminations declined by 12.2%.  The recidivism rate of ADTC graduates, described as new criminal convictions within 18 months of graduation, was found to be 16%, as compared to individuals who were admitted but expelled, at 49%.

Rick Otto worked as a case manager at the Hancock County Drug Court for many years before coming onboard with Maine Pretrial Services in Waldo County. His agency provides post-conviction alternatives and diversion options in 11 counties in the state.

While currently there is no drug court available in Waldo County, Otto said, there are some similarities in cases he works on now with Maine Pretrial where a deferred disposition is prescribed.

In these cases, Otto said, the judge sets conditions for the defendant to meet. These may include community service, restitution, Restorative Justice, electronic monitoring and random drug testing. If the defendant is successful, he said, the sentence is reduced; but if not, the defendant receives the original sentence.

The success rate for the Hancock County drug court, he said, was around the national average of 59%, meaning more than half of the participants graduate from the program. “Drug court is consistently better than all the other options, including incarceration and residential programs,” he said.

One of the biggest differences between drug court and deferred disposition, he said, is that a drug court case manager works with an average of 20 clients and sees them two or three times a week. Currently in Pretrial Services, Otto typically sees around 160 cases split between two case managers.

Guarded hope

In a March 8 conversation with The Republican Journal, Cote admitted being a little scared and also hopeful after his graduation. “Probably a little of all of it,” he said. “Everyone says it starts now.”

He credits the accountability part of the program, the tough love, as a positive force that has kept him clean. “It worked for me because I wanted it to work. The accountability part — you have to walk the walk because you can’t beat the test,” he said. “(The program) taught me to be honest.

“When you are using, you shut down,” he said. “Now, I want to be a family man.”

His peers, he said, have helped him get through the program. “Doing it together, sharing each other's struggles and helping each other get through this,” he said.

By all accounts, Cote has turned a corner from his troubled past and is seeking to remain on a different path. At the graduation, he said the construction company he started has grown enough that he bought a second truck, but he added, “It’s not new.”

He is in a committed relationship with his partner. His girlfriend and her family attended the graduation at the courthouse and they also support his efforts. “Paul, this is awesome,” said his girlfriend’s mother. “We are so proud of you.”

Several other people spoke at Cote’s graduation, including his stepmom and his niece, wishing him well and congratulating him on his success.

David Dancy, Cote’s Restorative Justice Project mentor at the Reentry Center, has worked with him for four years “back and forth.” He still keeps in touch with his former mentee and said at the courthouse during Cote’s graduation, “I knew he’d get here. This is a giant step forward.”

Dr. Richard Dimond, citizen volunteer at the Hancock County drug court, said Cote was his own man and was following his own path. “You taught me how to step back and look at the individual, and that I could be wrong,” he said. “It’s been an amazing transformation.”

Cote’s niece said, “I knew when he was doing drugs, and I’m so thankful (now).”

While feeling hopeful, Cote also admitted feeling stress, saying, “You’re one decision away from going up or down.”

Paul Cote, center, addresses his fellow Adult Drug Treatment Court program participants at his gradution at Hancock County Superior Court March 6. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
Program volunteer Dr. Richard Dimond, left, shakes hands with Paul Cote before he graduates from the Adult Drug Treatment Court at Hancock County Superior Court March 6. (Photo by: Fran Gonzalez)
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