War on Opioids: RI’s drug court making positive differences

SerieWar on Opioids: RI’s drug court making positive differences

Producer: Caitlin Grimaldi

Photojournalist and Editor: Scott Santos(WJAR)

Rhode Island’s drug court is making a difference.

It’s designed for people who commit non-violent crimes and are ready to enter rehabilitation.

"I was just totally out of control, complete control," 59-year-old Paul Roussell told NBC 10 News of his drug habit.

It started with cocaine. He did that for 20 years.

Then, three years ago, he gave heroin a try.

"When I tried it, I liked it,” said Roussell.

One bag led to two, then three. It continued to increase.

"I was up to anywhere from 30 to 40 bags a day,” he said.

Through it all, Roussell continued to work as a fisherman.

"I was a functioning addict,” he said.

But by June 6, 2017, Roussell was stopped by police in Newport. He had 150 bags of heroin on him, as well as more at home.

He was not only using, but selling.

"I remember the police officer telling me that this may be a blessing in disguise,” said Roussell. “And I believed him.”

Roussell spent three months at Rhode Island's Adult Correctional Institution, where he was started on methadone. There, he learned about, and petitioned, Rhode Island's drug court.

"My assignment's been in the drug court since 2012,” said Joee Lindbeck, assistant attorney general.

Lindbeck is also a prosecutor in drug court.

"We call ourselves the drug court team,” she said, “So, it's probation, it's the drug court clerk, drug court administrator, the judge, the defense attorney, the public defender. We're all working together looking at that individual."

In a statement, Judge Alice Gibney told NBC 10 that since the drug court program was expanded in 2005, 858 participants have been admitted, with a 70 percent graduation rate. Gibney also said re-arrest rates are low -- just over 12 percent after one year and 13 percent after three years.

"When I started, we had 44 participants in there and now we're averaging around 150, 155," said Lindbeck

Roussell they all treated him like a human being, not just a number.

"Instead of throwing me in jail and throwing the key away, they gave me a second chance,” Roussell said.

"I gave it my all, I really did.”

Roussell spent time in two Rhode Island rehab programs. He made each court date.

"They do have court appearances when they start. They're shorter in time to just kind of see how they're doing, making sure they're comfortable. And as they progress in their recovery, we spread those out a bit," said Lindbeck.

Roussell said he did everything he was asked and graduated from drug court early.

"We give certificates to them,” said Lindbeck. “We each say things about our participants. One of the comments was, ‘I've never seen a defendant hug a prosecutor before.’”

Roussell’s graduation was August 27, 2018. Now, he's embarking on a new career as a landscaper.

"I call myself a recovery superstar,” said Roussell. "Every morning, I wake up I feel like a kid again just starting a summer vacation. I plan on living the rest of my life clean and sober and straight and happy."

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