County’s drug court holds first graduation

Shelby County’s drug court is well worth the costs and effort, said the first graduate of the program at a ceremony held in Columbiana recently.

&uot;There’s no telling where I’d be without drug court,&uot; said 25-year-old Ted from Montevallo. &uot;I probably would have gotten strung out again.&uot;

Once asked which drugs he used, Ted said the better question was which drugs did he not use.

He has now been clean for more than 15 months.

Ted holds a full-time job at a local restaurant and plans to go back to school at the University of Montevallo to earn a degree in political science &045; opportunities, he said, that wouldn’t be possible without Shelby County’s drug court.

In return for a guilty plea, Ted avoided possible conviction and jail time by entering drug court.

Only nonviolent offenders with charges of possession are currently eligible for the program, officials said.

Once admitted, the applicants are subjected to routine drug tests, weekly court appearances, random searches and intense treatment and counseling. In addition to a $600 supervision fee, they must also pay for court costs.

The program’s goals are two-fold, organizers say, to relieve an overcrowded prison population and rehabilitate local drug-users.

On July 11, Judge Michael Joiner signed orders dismissing criminal charges against Ted and 12 other non-violent drug offenders.

The dismissals were the final stage of the program, which in its first year earned the praise of both participants and outsiders.

Shelby County’s drug court began in April 2002 with a grant from the County Commission.

County Commissioner Dan Acker, who attended the graduation with County Manager Alex Dudchock, said he would act as an advocate of the program to assure its continued funding.

Last year, the program received a commission grant for $60,000 for the first six months and was given an additional $120,000 for 2003.

Judge Joiner said more than 75 people have enrolled in the program since its creation.

He said drug court offers a different approach to dealing with offenders who kept resurfacing in the courts.

&uot;I kept seeing the same people over and over with the same problems, the same drug addictions,&uot; Joiner said.

Assistant District Attorney Barry Page said the program addresses those problems.

&uot;It gives an opportunity to give more supervision and more treatment than we see otherwise.&uot;

Page said national statistics indicate drug court programs reduce the number of repeat drug offenders.

But proof the program works is also evident at the local level, he said.

&uot;The 13 people we saw last week are just not the same people they were six months ago,&uot; Page said. &uot;They are different people.&uot;

Only time will tell if the recent graduates will stay clean, but Ted said he has faith in the program and his fellow participants.

&uot;I know all those people who graduated and I’ve got confidence in all of them,&uot; Ted said. &uot;I think they’ll all make it.&uot;