On Thursdays, Municipal Drug Court opens a new path to recovery

“How you doing?” Judge Joseph Locascio asks a drooped-faced defendant on a Thursday afternoon in Part G of the Municipal Court building. In most other courtrooms, he’d of asked, “How do you plead?”

But this is drug court, one of the city’s newest tools in its fight against drug-related crime and recidivism, and Locascio presides over the courtroom not only as a dispenser of justice, but as a lifeline for those ready to change their lives.

Many street prostitutes like Darlene White, the subject of this week’s cover story (“The Oldest Professional“), end up here when they’re arrested on prostitution-pattern crimes like disorderly conduct, trespassing, jaywalking or possession of a crack pipe.

Soon, there could be more.

City Prosecutor Beth Murano recently announced a new $191,000 grant from the Department of Justice, which will help hire another social worker and allow the program to handle more of the municipal court’s 1,500 to 2,000 total daily caseload. The program runs solely on grant money, including $124,000 from the Health Care Foundation of Kansas City.

Drug court represents a fundamental change in the way the city prosecutes drug offenders from the lock-’em-up approach to one that treats the underlying cause of their crimes: addiction.

“You can’t arrest your way out of this problem,” Murano said. “You can’t send everyone to jail.”

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