Seven adults, along with their families, friends and mentors, gathered to celebrate a new beginning Wednesday evening as they graduated from the DeKalb County Drug Court program.
The observance was held at the county complex. Each of the graduates, Roxanne White, Heather Yoskovich, Ryan Sullivan, Thomas Owen, Clent Shehane, Jordan Adams, and Billy Griffith received a framed diploma certificate noting their completion of the drug court program through which participants commit to becoming clean and sober.
"The graduates have had over seven years collectively being clean, "said Norene Puckett, Coordinator of the DeKalb County Drug Court in an interview with WJLE. "We really hope they will now become productive members of society like graduates from the past who have come here tonight to be with us. They have all stayed out of trouble and they are all giving back to their community in various different ways," said Puckett.
The drug court program provides an alternative to incarceration for eligible non-violent offenders.
"Tonight we had seven people graduate. Five young men and two young women. These people went through an average of about eighteen months," said General Sessions Judge Bratten Cook, II in an interview with WJLE. "Generally the drug court program consists of four different phases, about three months in each phase which equals a year but hardly ever does anyone graduate in less than fifteen months," he said.
Eligibility for the program is determined through assessments. "We do an addiction severity assessment as well as a risk and needs assessment," said Puckett. "Regardless of what they are charged with, if the assessments show it's a high risk, high needs offender who is substance dependant, that's the type of person we are looking to help because those are the people who are in and out of the system," she said.
The adult drug court program began in DeKalb County about six years ago after the success of the juvenile drug court . "I was convinced along with the other team members that this was a beneficial program for the community. We all decided several years ago that instead of having the revolving door philosophy of the criminal justice system and just punishing these people, let's see if we can treat the non-violent offenders and try and have them convert themselves into responsible, productive members of society. That's what the drug court is all about. It's really a win-win proposition for everyone," he said.
Statistics show that the cost of housing an inmate is more than $20,000 per year versus $3,000 per participant in the drug court program. "The math is real simple," said Judge Cook. "But more important than that are the lives of these people. Most of them are young people. Many of them are young people who have lost their children to DCS (Department of Children Services) as a result of their drug and alcohol issues. By their participation in drug court, they end up turning their lives around, becoming productive members of society, obtaining employment, paying their fines, court costs, child support, and getting their kids back. In fact, during the course of the adult drug court program, we've had five drug free babies born to participants. Otherwise, I think these children would have been born with drug problems," said Judge Cook.
Drug court team members who oversee the program locally in addition to Judge Cook and Drug Court Coordinator Puckett are Sheriff Patrick Ray, Assistant District Attorney General Greg Strong, John and Kay Quintero from Haven of Hope, primary treatment providers; Assistant Public Defender Allison Rasbury West, Case Manager Thomas Sliger, Probation Officer Ashley Lasser.
Front row: Roxanne White, Heather Yoskovich, Ryan Sullivan, Thomas Owen, Clent Shehane, Jordan Adams, and Billy Griffith.
Back Row: Assistant Public Defender Allison Rasbury West, Case Manager Thomas Sliger, Probation Officer Ashley Lasser, Drug Court Coordinator Norene Puckett, Judge Bratten Cook, II, and Sheriff Patrick Ray