“There is something new in the courts of America. They have been taking a new look at how the criminal justice system handles drug offenders. With the press of drug cases on judicial dockets, judges have sought alternative means to expedite cases through the system. Although expedited case-management strategies and specialized drug courts helped process cases faster and allowed judges more time to deal with serious felony cases, drug offenders continued to reoffend and reappear before the judiciary, often in the same courtroom. From these beginnings, the new paradigm of dedicated drug treatment courts arose”
— W. Clinton Terry, III, associate professor, Criminal Justice Program, Florida Inter-national University
On an unseasonably warm afternoon in February, proud friends, and reunited family members celebrated a special graduation. It wasn’t the kind of ceremony where participants received a degree, but a graduation where participants received their lives back.
Under the leadership of Judge Casey Moreland, 14 Davidson County residents graduated from Drug Court.
In Davidson County, approximately 80% of criminal cases involve either drugs or alcohol, with at least 60% of those individuals being charged having a chemical dependency problem. In response to high recidivism rates of chemically dependent defendants, Drug Court was formed.
Drug Court is a special court given responsibility to handle cases involving substance-abusing offenders through comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services and immediate sanctions and incentives. Drug Court offers individuals facing criminal charges for drug use and possession an opportunity to enter a substance abuse recovery program in lieu of straight jail time. The requirements of Drug Court are strict because the road to recovery is not easy. A candidate is tested frequently, must attend substance abuse recovery meetings and make regular court appearances in order to abide by the requirements of Drug Court. Participants are also required to work and pay rent.
“Congratulations to our winter graduating class of 2016,” said Natalie Broadway, Drug Court program director. “We are very excited for our graduates for achieving a very important milestone in their lives. We would like to congratulate and keep them encouraged as they continue their successful road to recovery.”
Metropolitan At-Large Councilwoman Erica Gilmore was the keynote speaker for the graduation. Gilmore read a poem by Portia Nelson, ‘There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery.’ The poem is a popular one for recovery groups because it illustrates how people repeat behaviors that bring about hurt, frustration, and a loss of self esteem–and that the person should move on to more satisfying and mutually agreeable relationships.
“Sometimes we have a feeling of helplessness and not knowing how to resolve our issues, or what makes us feel disempowered,” said Councilwoman Gilmore. “It strips us of every fiber of control that we feel we have in our lives. It justifies us doing nothing because we feel like we don’t have any matter in the situation. It leads us to doing nothing to improve our situation. But you have taken steps to improve your situation.”
Gilmore wished the graduates continued success.
“I want to commend each and every one of you,” she said. “Recognizing that there is a problem, even if we don’t know the answers can be a very liberating process. That way we can develop a plan of action on how to improve our lives and what steps we need to take. The ability to see our mistakes and help improve our lives–that’s what you have done. It’s not how many times we fall. It’s how many times we pick ourselves up.”
Upon receiving certificates, graduates proudly recognized rebuilt relationships and praised the court.
“I’m so grateful,” said one graduate. “I’ve got my family back in my life and it keeps just getting better.”
Another graduate said: “It’s an honor and a pleasure to be standing here today, giving praise to God. He sent drug court to me. He put drug court in my life to help save me. I have my driver’s license back because of drug court. I have my kids relationship, love, trust, all the things I never knew I’d have again. I have a whole lot to look forward to in my life.”
According to Judge Casey Moreland, Drug Court is not only beneficial to the participants and their families, but to the bottom line of the city.
“Just this graduating class, these 14 individuals here, have saved the taxpayers of Davidson County over $500,000 in incarceration costs,” said Moreland.
Towards the end of the program, state Rep. Carson ‘Bill’ Beck gave acknowledgements and also informed attendees that: “Judge Moreland and his staff have done such a tremendous job showing the effects of a successful Drug Court that the governor is adding more funds into this year’s budget to expand drug court so that others may be able to experience the recovery and accomplishments that you guys have. We do not need to be filling up our jails, we need to be helpingpeople.”