CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE MATT STEWART (above) offered a presentation on what he refers to as a “court of compassion” during the Shiawassee Dems meeting at the Corunna Community Center on Wednesday evening, Aug. 14. Stewart was in attendance to describe the programs he has worked to develop since he became circuit court judge, attentive to having compassion in the courtroom.
“I ran for judge because I saw problems in our community that I could fix and after five years, we’re starting to see some change,” Stewart shared. He went on to describe what circuit court does in Shiawassee County, what his position entails, the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor and the difference between a jail and a prison – offering concise background information leading into a longer discussion on the Drug Court and Mental Health Court programs he has developed.
“What’s wrong with sending somebody to prison?” he questioned. “There is not a lot of reentry or rehabilitation to help an offender, once they are released from prison, to start anew.” It costs a minimum of $35,000 per year to house an individual in the Michigan Department of Corrections, or $120,000 per year if the individual has a mental health diagnosis.
The question becomes how to help someone who is a drug addict. “The number one killer in America currently, in terms of drugs, is fentanyl.” Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, far stronger than morphine or heroin. Stewart described numerous problems related to drug addictions and situations where addicts become “stuck in the system.” Inspired to assist these “stuck” offenders, Stewart developed his highly successful Drug Court, and most recently also Mental Health Court. “I can teach them (addicts) they can lead a life without drugs,” he said.
Stewart also recognized that a number of defendants were in court “because there was no mechanism in play to help” people enduring mental illness. He believes that it is almost a crime to send such individuals to prison for long-term, when they have little or no understanding of why they are being punished. “Dedication, counseling, patience and routine is what helps people with mental health disorders,” Stewart said.
More on information is available at www.shiawassee.net. Stewart always invites people to visit his courtroom in the Shiawassee County Courthouse, as well – just do not bring a cell phone.
Stewart is also a strong proponent of Alliance for a Drug-Free Shiawassee. More information on that organization is available at drugfreeshiawassee.org.