By Lee Chottiner
National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section, is celebrating the opening of the new Jefferson County Family Recovery Court, the mission of which is to bring together families split up because of drug addiction.
The court, which is expected to open sometime in October, largely because of the NCJW’s fundraising efforts, fills the void of the old Family Drug Court, which closed in 2009 due to cutbacks in state funding.
The key differences, according to Jane Godchaux Emke, past president of the NCJW-Louisville Section, is that the offenders coming through the new court will not be subject to jail time, and for now at least, the court will solely operate on private funding.
But that can’t last forever, Emke said. That’s why community leaders who are raising funds for the court want to include it in the state budget for 2020.
“We don’t want to fund it with private funding more than three full years,” Emke said. “We’re going after state funding. If the courts were funded by wealthy individuals and corporations in the long term, then none of us would have any justice.’’
Emke is part of a team of community leaders, including retired Courier-Journal Editorial Director David Hawpe, Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson and State Senators Julie Raque Adams (Republican) and Morgan McGarvey (Democrat), who have worked to establish the court.
NCJW held a “Birth of a New Court” celebration on September 26 at the Jefferson County Judicial Center Downtown, recognizing donors to the effort and honoring Judge Patricia Walker FitzGerald with this year’s David Richart Pathway to Justice for Children Award.
The Family Recovery Court is designed to help parents who have temporarily lost custody of their children through drug abuse or neglect put their lives together and be reunited with their kids. Initially, 30 families per year – including about 150 children – are expected to be assisted.
Emke, who has co-chaired the fundraising effort, said the court is about helping families, not punishing offenders.
“After you get sober, it’s about TLC,” she said
More than 400 people died from drug overdoses in Jefferson County in 2017, according to the Courier-Journal.
NCJW has led the effort to raise funds for the court’s initial operations. So far, individuals, corporations and foundations have donated $404,000 – enough to provide specially trained social workers, supervised visits, drug screening and parenting classes for two years.
Another $157,000 must be raised to fund a third year of court costs.
NCJW, a longtime advocate for judicial excellence, will continue to work to influence elected officials to fund permanent family drug courts throughout Kentucky, and to enlist experts throughout the community to conduct an independent evaluation of the new court once it begins operating.