County drug court program gets rave reviews from university’s chancellor

bbashioum@demo-mo.comAugust 22, 2014 

The University of Missouri’s newest chancellor is on a tour around the state.

University flags were in place and the Tiger’s colors of black and gold were scattered throughout the Cass County Extension Office as Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin visited Aug. 15 and got a look at the services provided during his stop in Harrisonville.

“I’ve been trying to get around and meet people ... and see the outreach programs,” Loftin said.

While the topics of discussion included everything from nutrition and fitness to agriculture and livestock, Loftin said he was most impressed with MU Extension's involvement with the county’s drug court program through a community garden.

“This issue of the court being set up to handle people who have drug issues and alcohol-abuse issues is impactful,” Loftin said. “It is very impressive.”

Loftin became the university’s 22nd chief executive officer on Feb. 1, and to learn more about what the school offers beyond its main campus in Columbia, he has been touring Missouri to see university programs and meet alumni.

Loftin previously was the president of Texas A&M University at College Station.

David Hoffman, program director for the Cass County University of Missouri Extension Office, launched the community garden demonstration project last year, with help from others.

The garden was conceived as a voluntary counseling opportunity for Cass County Drug Court individuals and clients of Cass County Psychological Services.

During last Friday’s event, Division 4 Associate Circuit Judge Mike Rumley talked about the positive outcomes of the county’s drug court, one of about 130 recovery court programs in the state.

“They’re an alternative to sending people to prison,” Rumley said.

Because drug users tend to keep company with other users, he said, it’s difficult for many to escape the vicious cycle of substance abuse.

Drug courts also reduce the burden on taxpayers of keeping non-violent offenders incarcerated.

“The treatment they receive at the Department of Corrections isn’t sufficient or long enough to get them into a state of recovery,” Rumley said. “And it costs a lot of money.”

Participants are required to get a GED, undergo counseling, take care of outstanding legal matters, and become employed — steps toward becoming active members of society.

That’s where working in the garden can benefit individuals who are looking to build a new way of life for themselves.

Last summer, the garden produced more than 160 pounds of fresh produce, including various kinds of lettuce, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower.

Cass County’s drug court program has a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent, Rumley said.

“What a life-changing experience this can be,” Loftin said. “We’re doing things here that nobody else is doing.”

Extension Office Nutrition and Health Specialist Susan Mills-Gray took time last year to show garden participants how to prepare the byproducts of their work.

Nessa Dement, a 31-year-old woman from Belton, told the chancellor about her experience working in the garden as a drug court participant.

“I fell in love with cooking all over again,” Dement said. “I forgot that I loved it.”

One aspect of the program is to instill the value of teamwork in gardening participants, and to help them learn how to interact with sober individuals.

“It was really nice to connect with someone on a level and ask questions,” Dement said. “It built up my confidence a lot.”

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