March 26, 2017
It’s almost like a movie set: The room is a warehouse with a judicial bench and courtroom walls erected at one side. Commanding a wood podium in front of a state seal is Nashville Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman, and he’s talking about coining out.
The term that means nothing to you means everything to those in the room: real people working to stop their addictions. Norman reads a name, “Matthew Lipps.” As if it’s a cue. In an instant the silence in the room transforms, chairs push back — their metal legs scraping the cement floor — the men bellow and everyone claps.
Lipps, 34, has made it.
He was hooked on alcohol and pills. Now he gets to live somewhere else, outside of the treatment facility guarded by rigid rules, not fences, that he’s called home and hell for 14 months. He has “coined out.”
“It’s been a long road,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things. … I’ve been doing drugs since I was 8 years old. I look at the world a different way today than I did.”
Norman began his treatment court in 1995. It was the first in the state. Now, there are 68 recovery court programs in Tennessee that provide addiction services to adults.
That number has exploded since 2013, when there were 33 courts. In 2012, Gov. Bill Haslam shifted funding and oversight of the recovery courts to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and directed the department to make those programs available to people in all 95 counties. That remains a work in progress.
More than 1,600 people participated in the court programs statewide in the last full fiscal year, according to Marie Crosson, executive director of the Tennessee Association for Drug Court Professionals.
“Addiction doesn’t get solved by simple jail time or punishment of crimes,” she said. “In order to stop the ongoing process of repeat offenses, we’ve got to treat the problem where it is. That’s treating the addiction.”
Right now in Tennessee that addiction is opioids.
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Stacey Barchenger covers courts and criminal justice issues for The Tennessean.