Judge speaks out on substance abuse help

Photo by Tasha Stewart
District Judge Skip Hammons spoke at the October 3 UNITE Coalition meeting. Judge Hammons addressed what the court system is doing to help those who come through with drug charges and what areas could be strengthened.

80 to 90 percent of the court cases that District Judge Skip Hammons sees are drug and alcohol related. To shed some light on this alarming number, Judge Hammons spoke at the October 3 UNITE Coalition meeting, addressing one particular question he and his staff receive all of the time: what are the courts doing for those with drug use charges?

“One of the things we do in the court system is Monitored Conditional Release services. This includes drug testing. Another service is home incarceration and that also requires drug testing,” said Judge Hammons.

In terms of sentencing in Knox County, Judge Hammons stated he often uses the district drug court program.

“We’ve had that program for a number of years and I feel like overall, that’s a successful program,” continued Judge Hammons.

While these programs have been around for a while and most of the community is aware of them, one new program Judge Hammons talked about is Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP).

“Another recent addition to our court tool belt, in terms of alternative sentencing, is the IOP program,” said Judge Hammons. “We’ve been using those about a year and I think we’re seeing real success there.”

Despite the addition of alternative sentencing programs, Judge Hammons stated there are still some holes that need filled.

“I know it’s a rarity but on occasion, we get someone who is just an alcoholic. With all the shift on substance abuse and those type of things…we aren’t aware of very many programs for alcoholics. If anyone has any insight to that, I would love to hear from them,” pointed out the judge.

Hammons also stated that the local drug problem is worse now than it has been in the past; however, there are ways to combat this issue.

“The problem is worse, the treatment options are better and the education is better. I think those that are on [drugs], we’re doing all we can for treatment,” continued Hammons.

One good piece of news out of the UNITE conversation is that fewer and fewer young people are coming through the court system with drug charges.

“I think we’re seeing less younger folks now as opposed to eight years ago when I took the bench. I think the education programs are really taking hold with the younger folks,” said Hammons.

Instead of younger people crowding the court system, they are seeing older people who are just now getting caught with drug charges or repeat offenders.

“I think what we need is education, education, education,” said Judge Hammons, when asked how to overcome this issue. “We’re going to have some success…we’re going to have some failures. We’re hoping and praying the successes outweighs the failures. I think the fight of this has to be in education of young folks.”

Regardless of the drug issues Knox County continues to face, Hammons remained adamant that there is nowhere else he would rather be.

“I’ve been asked, ‘Wouldn’t you just like to live somewhere else?’ No. I was raised in Turkey Creek…I would not live anywhere else,” said Judge Hammons. “I had a chance to live somewhere else and I passed on it. This is my home, I love it…We all know there is good here. I still believe the good people outweigh the bad people here by a margin.”

The next UNITE meeting will be held on November 14 at 12 p.m. at Two Amigos. A.J. Mooney will be the special speaker.