‘Take what you’ve learned,’ senator urges graduates


By:  Kara Lewis
Columbia Tribune

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill returned Monday to the Jackson County Courthouse, where she served as prosecutor from 1993 to 1999, to celebrate the Jackson County Drug Court’s 150th graduation.

McCaskill helped to create the drug court program, which emphasizes rehabilitation, counseling and education, 25 years ago. At the time, it stood out as the only drug court in Missouri and one of the first in the nation. Now, 160 similar courts operate in the state, and the nation’s count has climbed to more than 3,500. The Jackson County Drug Court, specifically, has graduated nearly 3,000 participants.

“Take what you’ve learned over the last 18 months,” McCaskill told graduates before presenting them with certificates and hugs. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and making those hard choices.”

For McCaskill, the drug court continues to prove relevant and effective.

“Instead of drug court graduates taking up space in jail, they’re working, they’re raising children, they’re contributing to their community and they have really tackled the problem causing the low-level, nonviolent crime, which was drug addiction,” McCaskill said.

According to the Jackson County COMBAT website, 100 percent of graduates have attained either a full-time job or have decided to pursue a full-time education at the time of their graduation. The website also details that 96 percent do not become repeat offenders, but instead go on “conviction free.”

McCaskill also pointed to saved taxpayer dollars as a benefit. A recent study by the National Institute of Justice estimated that drug court programming can save up to $12,218 per participant, as compared to traditional jail time.

Though McCaskill highlighted the drug court’s impact on the local community, she also gave her input on both statewide and national issues.

In response to the narrow race between her and Republican opponent Attorney General Josh Hawley, McCaskill touted her ability to compromise and “work from the middle” as her strength. She drew attention to their opposing stances on right to work – Hawley supported it, while McCaskill voted against it – as well as a proposed $12 minimum wage, which she favors.

A Sept. 29 CNN poll showed McCaskill leading Hawley 47 percent to 44 percent. However, two days before, Missouri Scout showed Hawley with 48 percent and McCaskill with 46 percent. Fox News, CBS News and NBC News all put the two candidates in even standing.

The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh also emerged as a point of discussion. McCaskill, who voted against Kavanaugh, said she would oppose an impeachment and said the Senate is not discussing that as a possibility. McCaskill also said again that she voted against Kavanaugh not based on allegations of sexual assault, but due to disagreements with his opinions on campaign finance and “dark money” in politics.