He's an innovator and a trailblazer. Those are just some of the words people use to describe Judge Alan Blankenship.
Blankenship, who is running unopposed in the August Primary for Associate Circuit Court Judge 1, is also the head of Stone County's successful drug court program.
Stone County's Intensive Supervision Program (drug court,) one of the top 10 in the nation, has achieved the status as a mentor court to other courts throughout the country that are in the beginning stages of establishing a program or seeking to improve their programs. Just this week a team from Virginia was here to learn from Blankenship and his "team."
When drug court was established here a decade ago there were those naysayers who thought the program was a waste of time. "We took that as a challenge....we were confident we could make it work here," he said.
In the 1980's the national "Just Say No" campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan led to stiff penalties for not only drug dealers, but users as well. "With the drug problem developing several decades ago the response in the United States was to criminalize addiction driven behavior and drug crimes. Instead of being just tough on crime, we're trying to be smart on crime," said Blankenship.
There have been triumphant successes and epic failures in drug court along the way, but in every one of them there have been lessons learned. "It's not just me," Blankenship said. "We have a great team that makes drug court effective."
The cost of someone going through the program is a fraction of what it would cost to incarcerate them for one year, according to Blankenship. "What makes me happy is when I see a small child at a drug court graduation clapping and beaming with joy at their parents success....that's something to be proud of."
Drug Court is funded through state and federal grants and fees paid by participants of the program. "Very few of those who enter into our program and graduate successfully go on to commit further crimes. Most are able to live a life without using drugs or alcohol."
Blankenship was also instrumental in establishing a Veteran's Court for the 39th Judicial Circuit, which includes Stone, Barry and Lawrence counties. It is only one of six such courts in the Missouri. "We've matched up some of those who are facing charges with mentor's who have been there. I think it will be very successful."
Becoming a lawyer wasn't Blankenship's first career choice. After graduating from East Newton High School, he went on to get an undergraduate degree from Missouri Southern State University. He then went to work for a time in the Missouri State Auditor's Office. However, he learned crunching numbers wasn't for him and he went on to get his Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri.
In 2008, he was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to serve on the Missouri Trial Judges Education Committee. He also been asked to join the teaching staff for the National Center For DWI Courts. That will not affect his position as a Stone County judge, he said. He also speaks occasionally at the Missouri Trial Judicial College.
He and his wife Dee Ann have three children and a granddaughter. He says his wife "is the unsung hero of drug court." "She's been a good sounding board and an unwavering cheerleader," he said.
When you ask about Blankenship to some of those whom he has dealt with in the court system the most consistent answer given is, "He's a good man and a fair judge."
"Those are kind words," he said.