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Judge Thompson emceed at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Elected Official Appreciation Breakfast.

Featured Article

A Fresh Start

In Fayette County, Accountability Courts provide hope and a second chance for a new lease on life.

Success is inevitable when a community need is met with the right program, and matched with genuine heart and commitment. In 2013, Judge Jason Thompson - State Court Judge of Fayette County - having presided over many cases, was inspired to start a DUI/Drug Court. In November of that year, Judge Thompson gathered community leaders and stakeholders together to discuss the potential viability of such a program. Eight years later, he is still the leader and driving force behind DUI/Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court, in Fayette County.

Accountability Court is an alternate and restorative way of handling cases where the primary issue is substance abuse or PTSD. Before Accountability Court, which was implemented in January 2016, these cases were addressed the same way as any other case presented to the court. With only one tool in the state court toolbox, most cases ended with the same outcome - jail time. Judge Thompson gives a summary of what he realized early on, "If we continue to do it the old way - put somebody in custody - they are not going to get any treatment. They are not going to be able to engage with peers. They are going to lose any positive influence in their life, and what we're basically going to do is rinse and repeat." In essence, "The person is taken out of their environment for a period of time. They go back to the environment and they'll go back into custody longer, and the cycle continues over and over again."

In lieu of a long jail sentence, eligible participants - two DUI's in five years or three lifetime DUI's, no violent convictions, and no convictions for selling or distributing a controlled substance - must agree to random testing, counseling, group sessions, AA meetings, random searches and more to remain in the program, which is designed to last 14-18 months. Successful completion of the program will result in fines and/or time being dramatically reduced or suspended. It's a program that requires a great deal of commitment. Studies show that if a participant makes it through the program, the odds of reoffending drop from 70% to 20%.

Every Fayette County case is reviewed thoroughly, as a person's past charges could suggest an underlying issue of substance abuse or PTSD. The person does not have to have a DUI or drug charge, but the series of crimes together can be an indicator. A person who has cycled through the system previously knows if they use again and continue to make the same choices, they are probably going to jail for a long time. "They continue to make these choices anyway because the substance abuse issue is so strong they just cannot do it any other way. That's the candidate we're looking for."

Twice a month Judge Thompson holds Veterans Treatment Court in the morning and DUI/Drug Court in the afternoon. For Veterans Treatment Court, the team, along with Judge Thompson, consists of prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, treatment providers, and military-specific professionals - representatives from the VA and a Veteran Mentor Coordinator to assess the progress of the participant. A "battle buddy" is also part of the program. A person who goes through the program side-by-side with the veteran. This person is not a participant but has volunteered to assist "their fellow soldier" to get the job done. "They sit with them in the court session. The camaraderie...the band of brothers. It's a beautiful thing to see how they go through the program together." The same team is assembled, minus the military component, for the DUI/Drug Court in the afternoon. The team finds a way to support, reward, and address important matters with, and for the participants, in the battle against the substance abuse issues that led them into the criminal justice system.

The first graduation for Accountability Court was held on March 15, 2017. The one graduate signed a new lease on life that day and served as an example of redemption and hope for countless others. Since then, there have been as many as seven to graduate at one time, with an average of three to five at each.

Accountability Court saves money as well as lives. There is a savings of $22,000 for each person who graduates. To date, there have been over 120 participants to graduate from DUI/Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court, saving our county approximately $2,640,000 over the life of the program.

For Judge Thompson, "Accountability Court is some of the most rewarding work I get to do. I've seen people at their worst, and I've seen them go through the transformation. They come out on the other side and they are such a blessing to our community, to our program. It gives me strength and passion to help more people because I see how life-changing it can be."

While Judge Thompson continues to have a positive impact on the lives of participants, his greatest influence and focus is family. Having met his bride, Alisha, on the first day of law school, the two judges - Alisha is the Judge for the Town of Tyrone - have journeyed together through 18 years of marriage and the birth of three children - Baine, Aida Lynn, and Alexander. Judge Thompson may not have traveled far in his career, as he works less than five miles from where he grew up and attended kindergarten. He does, however, consistently go the distance when it comes to providing the second chance opportunity that is Accountability Court.

  • Judge Thompson emceed at the Chamber of Commerce Annual Elected Official Appreciation Breakfast.
  • Judge Thompson speaks to the Metro Fayette Kiwanis Club about Accountability Courts.