Bren⁠t⁠ Te⁠i⁠chman

May 1, 2023

May 1, 2023

“Recovery court works. When I became a judge, we had eight people in the program and three graduates. Four years later, we have more than 50 current participants, and we’ve graduated more than 80. Our current graduation rate is one of the highest in the country – about 85 percent.” 

“In the past, people with non-violent felony drug and alcohol charges were just shipped off to prison, but that was not really doing anything for them or for the community. More than 90 percent reoffended after they got out. The courts weren’t dealing with the underlying issue of addiction, we were just punishing the crime.”

“Recovery court is another way that helps people get onto a new path. After pleading guilty, they go through a program of treatment and accountability that takes about 18 months. Participants have to go to counseling and meetings, have random drug testing every few days and come to court twice a month. The participants also have some skin in the game, because they’re required to pay part of their fees.”

“It started here in Johnson County in 2016, but had a slow start. When I became a judge in 2019, I was asked to take it over. Until that point, my philosophy had always been ‘you do the crime, you do the time.’ But as I learned more about these underlying issues, I started to see it differently.”

“The vast majority of people in the program are young – 20 to 30 years old – but they’ve got the mentality of a seventh or eighth grader, because that’s when they started using drugs. But, they mature 10 or 15 years while in the program because there’s so much accountability along with the treatment.”

“Recovery court gets to the root of the problem. People don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to start doing drugs’. It’s what they were raised around. Most of them have some type of traumatic event in their past. They are started on a path that they can’t seem to get off of, and we try to break that pattern and help them create a different branch to their family tree.”

“Employment and community service are conditions of being in the program, but that was difficult to achieve when we first started because these are people with felony charges. It meant we had to do a lot of outreach with employers and service organizations. We explained that we know the person might look risky, but our program is about accountability. We drug test more often than the employers do, and if the person screws up or doesn’t show up to work on time, I’ll deal with it as the judge. They might spend a night in jail or get sanctioned.”

“We’ve seen a complete transformation from churches, law enforcement, employers, court staff, the prosecutor’s office – the whole community – because they see the effects. They see what’s possible. Now, we have people coming to us to ask if anyone is available.”

“Law enforcement was also skeptical. Now, they know they don’t have to worry about people as long as they’re in this program. They can focus their efforts and their attention where it needs to be, which is on the serious crimes. They’re amazed by the results and come to our graduations probably more than anybody else.” 

“Alumni also come to a lot of graduations, and they mentor people in the program. A lot of people in the program are very skeptical of law enforcement and people in authority. But they know the alumni because they used to run in the same circles and can’t believe that person got their life together. They see it’s possible and are inspired.”

“It’s a really neat thing to see when the light bulb goes on and someone realizes they can have a better life – and so can their children. They can get away from the things that were holding them back.”

“The best part about this is the buy-in from our entire community. Recovery court has really transformed our entire community over the last four years, because it’s changed how people view addiction. We’ve built relationships that make a difference.”

Brent Teichman
Warrensburg, Missouri

Brent is Associate Circuit Judge in Johnson County, Missouri.