Wendy Mabbett's long and arduous journey to overcome decades of cocaine and heroin addiction came to a head in a Lake County courtroom.
The Beach Park woman had gone through numerous drug treatment programs but, like many addicts, often relapsed. She committed various crimes to feed her habit and had been incarcerated more times than she wants to discuss.
"It was just an awful ride," the 49-year-old recalls.
In 2005, Mabbett was unemployed, estranged from her family and facing another prison sentence for retail theft.
But unlike the previous times she hit rock bottom, Mabbett was given the option of participating in drug court, an alternative sentencing program that allows nonviolent offenders dealing with substance addiction to stay out of prison by getting treatment. The program includes counseling, therapy, random drug testing, regular court appearances and intensive monitoring.
Mabbett became one of the first graduates of Lake County's drug court in 2008. She hasn't used drugs or alcohol since the day of her arrest more than six years ago.
It's the kind of happy ending for defendants that McHenry County officials are hoping to achieve now that McHenry has joined Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties in offering some form of a drug court.
"As long as we follow the plan that we've put in place, it will make a difference," said Dan Wallis, McHenry's 22nd Judicial Circuit trial court administrator. "There will be failures. I am a realist. But I have seen firsthand
what happens with these programs. I have seen people who have succeeded. I have seen parents get their children back."
Making the move
McHenry County's drug court started in December when a Woodstock man was accepted into the fledging program.
Since 2009, all 23 of Illinois' judicial circuits have been required to have drug courts. McHenry officials stress they were talking about establishing a drug court long before the state law was changed.
Wallis said it was a mountain of research that convinced McHenry officials that drug courts are necessary.
At least half of the people sentenced to prison are clinically addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to Wallis. He said that a majority of those individuals return to using drugs and alcohol once they are released.
"The bottom line is that prison doesn't fix the substance abuse," he said.
A federal grant of nearly $306,000 will help pay for most of McHenry's program for the next three years. The money will cover equipment, drug testing and the salary of a full-time probation officer.
To be eligible, a defendant must be substance-dependent and charged with a nonviolent felony, such as drug possession, residential burglary or retail theft.
Wallis said the ideal drug court candidate for McHenry is the person "nobody wants to deal with" because he or she has a long history of drug use or criminal behavior.
"It's the person that's easier just to lock up," he said.
The reason is because many resources are needed to help a drug court participant from attorneys and probation staff to residential treatment centers and halfway houses.
"If you're going to invest those kinds of resources into somebody," Wallis said, "you need to target those who will provide the biggest return."
So, are other collar counties getting a decent return on their investments?
"Absolutely," says Carrie Thomas, the coordinator of Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court. Since Kane's adult drug court started in 2000, about 635 people have "graduated" from the program.
In order to graduate, a defendant must be in Kane's program for a minimum of 30 months, successfully complete three different phases of treatment, be employed or attending school, and have at least one year of sobriety immediately prior to graduation. …