By CHRISSY DILL Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
DURANT, Okla. – About eight years ago, Chief Gregory E. Pyle of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma made the decision to provide financial assistance for the drug court in Bryan County. The court wasn’t receiving the adequate amount of funding from the state to sustain its services for its participants or employees, so it sought the tribe’s assistance.
According to Choctaw Nation Tribal Management Executive Director Shannon McDaniel, who’s been employed by the tribe for 24 years, today the tribe makes yearly donations to aid in maintaining the drug court programs of Bryan, McCurtain, Pittsburg, Atoka and LeFlore counties. “Drug courts are funded by the state,” said McDaniel, “but just not enough funding comes through, so that’s the reason we jumped in and started helping.”
The purpose of a drug court is to enlist a participant with non-violent drug offenses in an 18- to 24-month program and provides counseling, drug testing, jobs and assigns daily activities that require completion, all in efforts to keep them from entering a correctional system. Currently, there are roughly 90 participants in Bryan County’s drug court, and average 60-90 participants in the other counties where the, with a large percentage of Native Americans, providing another motive for the Choctaw Nation to make their aid available.
At the time the individual receives a drug court sentence, they’re also given a state sentence to a penal institution, which they don’t have to abide by unless they aren’t able to maintain their position in the drug court, according to McDaniel. “If they don’t meet drug court rules, they immediately go into a correctional facility,” he explained.
The Tribal Management Department’s main responsibility is helping families of the Choctaw Nation in as many ways possible, which explains its involvement with the drug court assistance program.
“Our thought on it is if we can keep these people out of the prison system, it not only saves money for the state, but it gives them the help and assistance they need to change their life so drugs and alcohol will no longer be a part of their life,” McDaniel explained. “We want to help these people become more productive in society and not make them a burden of the state.”
Each drug court is overseen by a number of board members. “Each board is made up of people in the community who deal with issues relating to drugs, alcohol, mental health, law enforcement,” said McDaniel.
The drug court board and district attorneys make decisions relating to the individual’s acceptance into the drug court program and their graduation from the program. “This program encompasses everyone in the community to make it work,” McDaniel added. “It goes in full circle.”
According to McDaniel, without the financial support of the Choctaw Nation these drug courts probably would not be able to function and would have to scale down the number of participants they attend to. “The tribe gives them the subsidy to take care of their employees,” he said.
Not only has the Choctaw Nation provided assistance for the area’s drug courts in times when the state could not meet its payment schedules to the county they have given funds in the interim period. “We’ve done that for almost all counties,” said McDaniel.
“The Choctaw Nation has made a tremendous impact,” said drug court judge Farrell Hatch. “Any assistance we’ve asked for, they’ve helped us with.”