Dwyer Uses Drug Court to Help Offenders Reform

LANE CAMP | The Daily News

"During drug court, I take off my robe, get off of the bench and deal with each defendant on a one-on-one basis ... We get to know each other and, in some instances, I feel like I become a father figure to some of them."
- Judge Tim Dwyer
Name: Tim Dwyer
Position: Presiding judge for Shelby County's drug court
Basics: Dwyer, 52, first elected a judge at age 30, was the driving force in creating drug court in 1997. The court is part of General Sessions Criminal Court.

Since Shelby County's drug court was created in 1997, Judge Tim Dwyer has presided over it.

The court monitors non-violent offenders who have committed crimes as a result of drug addiction. They're put in a one-year treatment program instead of being sent to jail.

If they complete the program successfully, their charges are dismissed. If not, the court sentences them.

Dwyer, 52, who is from Memphis, was a driving force in creating the special court for Division 8 of General Sessions Criminal Court after being elected a judge in 1984 at age 30. Twice re-elected, he is up for election again in August.

Q. Why do you believe in drug court?

A: The University of Memphis did a study that showed drug court graduates have a 20 percent recidivism rate compared to non-drug court graduates, who have an 80 percent recidivism rate. The numbers speak for themselves.

Q. What is the biggest misconception about drug court?

A: That drug court is an easy program. In fact, the program is extensive and closely monitored by the court. We have actually had defendants get out of the program and do their time at the correctional center instead of staying in the program.

Q. How much do taxpayers benefit?

A: Immensely. It costs $2,803 for one year of treatment through drug court. It costs $43,500 for one year of incarceration. Just looking at the 723 drug court graduates so far, it is a savings of more than $29 million for Shelby County taxpayers.

Q. What are your main budget concerns?

A: The budget is a constant worry to me. Shelby County government is in a financial crisis. Our elected officials have been great in supporting the drug court. They can only do so much. I am hopeful that we can receive some assistance from the state ... Also, drug court clients are required to pay some of their treatment costs based on their financial ability.

Q. What early experiences helped shape your career?

A: Early in my judicial career, a drunk driver killed my 15-year-old cousin, Thomas, along with two of his friends. This tragedy had a profound impact on my life. I could have easily become bitter after this experience, but, for some reason, God put in it my heart to take this horrible experience and try and reach people with alcohol problems and get them into treatment to avoid hurting others.

Q. What personality traits serve you best?

A: During Drug court, I take off my robe, get off of the bench and deal with each defendant on a one-on-one basis. I feel this shows the defendant I really care about their recovery. We get to know each other and, in some instances, I feel like I become a father figure to some of them.