Heroin: How the Crisis is Impacting the Justice System

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WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WIFR) -- The heroin crisis, is starting to take a toll on our justice system. Studies say, most inmates, are fighting some sort of drug addiction.

It's a drug, that's bombarding our justice system. Heroin is no stranger to the Stateline, but it's severity, is what's troubling. Shane Diedrich battled the addiction for more than a decade, starting with something on grocery store shelves, alcohol.

"I think I was hooked the first time I did. I had to have to have it to go to bed, I had to have it to wake up, I had to have it to brush my teeth. Everything I did revolved around heroin." says Diedrich.

Diedrich was in and out of prison and treatment centers because of his addiction.

"I did 43 days in the Winnebago County jail, and when I got out, that's when I started drug court," he says.

That's what he says, turned his life around. According to national statistics, nearly 50 percent of jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted, and 60 percent of people arrested, test positive for illegal drugs. Judge Janet Holmgren has seen the number of heroin abusers in the court system increase dramatically, for many who come across her courtroom, drug court is their last hope.

"It's a life and death struggle. Drug court is really a life and death struggle. We deploy every single tool at our disposal to try to help people refrain from using these dangerous drugs," says judge Holmgren.

Judge Holmgren says three quarters of the people who come to drug court have a heroin addiction. The two and a half year program is voluntary, and the only other option, is jail. Drug court is highly successful. Holmgren says 85 percent of graduates never do drugs again. But once offenders start the program, there's little room for error.

"Our goal in drug court is for everyone to succeed, but if they don't succeed, they will be punished," says Holmgren.

The Rockford Police Department says, they can't arrest their way out of this epidemic.

"It does put a burden on the officers," says deputy chief Dave Hopkins. "You're looking at over one, every other day. That's a lot of overdoses."

Officers say when they are called to a heroin overdose, they're not there to arrest..but to get victims help, and figure out where they got the drug in the first place.

"We'll talk to anybody, not only them, but members of their family, to try and pinpoint and track the path of heroin in our community," says Hopkins.

After graduating from drug court three years ago, Diedrich is now co-owner of his family business. He no longer considers heroin, as a ball and chain.

"It's not so much a struggle. The struggle is life. It's not the drug anymore. I took that out of my life, and now, it's fixing Shane. When I started being able to fix myself and love myself, everything started falling into place," says Diedrich.

Judge Holmgren says all levels of the court system are trained to deal with the heroin abuse behavioral health issues, all the way from judges, to probation officers, to the state's attorney's office.

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