POTTSVILLE, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — As the heroin epidemic puts more and more people behind bars, a county in our area is expanding its alternatives to prison. One of those alternatives — drug court. 

The Schuylkill County drug treatment court launched in January. It started small, but it’s about to get a lot bigger. 

Thanks to a 400-thousand dollar federal grant, the program is expanding. That three-year grant will be used to hire additional staff and open more spots for drug court participants. 

“The grant couldn’t come at a better time for our office. Crime in the county is historically high in our country right now,” said Michael Stine, Chief Public Defender. 

As the heroin epidemic rages on, local leaders say they need more people power to make a difference. This grant gives an extra set of hands to the public defender, drug and alcohol, drug probation, and district attorney’s offices. 

“Everyone on the drug court staff in Schuylkill County cares a lot about these individuals who have entered the program. And we’re really rooting for them to beat the addiction,” said District Attorney, Christine Holman. 

The program filled up fast — with a max of 35 participants. Because the grant takes effect right away,drug court staff expect to get more people started soon. 

To be eligible for drug court, an offender must be nonvoilent, and must plead guilty to their charges. They must also express that they want to and are ready to live a drug free life. Participants are regularly drug tested and meet weekly with judges and probation officers.

“We teach them job skills, life skills — so that when they complete this 14-month program, they can go out into the community be productive members and not commit crimes,” said Judge James Goodman, drug treatment court judge. 

One of the big goals — cut back recidivism, which will help the county prison as it continues to struggle with overcrowding issues. 

When drug court participants successfully complete the program, their charges will be dismissed. The first graduation in Schuylkill County is expected to take place in early 2018.