The program, which holds graduation ceremonies each quarter, is overseen by Walker County Circuit Judge Doug Farris. It is part of a statewide deferred prosecution plan that also involves the Walker County District Attorney’s Office. The program is available to first-time, nonviolent drug offenders and usually takes about 12 to 18 months to complete.
Billie Joe Richardson, one of Friday’s graduates, was in the program for 167 weeks. Farris said Richardson had her ups and downs while in drug court. Each quarter graduates participate in an essay writing contest, and Richardson was selected as this group’s winner and read her essay during the ceremony.
“I was a trash can junkie — it didn’t matter what I took as long as it made me numb,” she said. “I found hope and surrendered my life to God. I was saved in jail and baptized in rehab. I am grateful for drug court. It has helped me to change my life.”
As a part of the program, participants must appear in court once each week, pass multiple drug screenings, maintain employment and pay all their fines and restitution. Friday’s graduates had paid a total of $18,000 in restitution and court costs, and Farris said the program’s 66 graduates to date have paid more than $156,000.
Farris said the program has also contributed to 11,000 community service hours.
“Our community service includes everything from picking up trash, helping the American Red Cross and working with some of our Celebrate Recovery partners,” Farris said.
Graduates of the program each receive a certificate of completion and an order of dismissal on the charges they were facing.
District Attorney Bill Adair served as guest speaker during the ceremony.
“As the DA, a lot of people down’t think I have a heart,” Adair said. “Redemption is something we all should have if you earn it. You graduates have earned it.”