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.
“This is a rigorous program that includes drug testing and counseling,” Farris said. “All eight of these graduates have done everything asked of them in the program, and I’m proud of their efforts.”
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 $16,500 in restitution, and Farris said graduates in the program’s first two years have paid back $117,000 in restitution.
“The folks in this program have worked hard, and they have paid back all their fines,” Farris said. “They are no longer defendants. They are now citizens of Walker County.”
Graduates of the program each receive a certificate of completion and an order of dismissal on the charges they were facing.
The Rev. James Gardner, pastor at Jasper Christian Center, served as the guest speaker at Friday’s graduation ceremony. He urged the graduates to stay close to God.
“God is good, and he has a good plan for your life,” he said. “You may have fallen, but you fell in the right direction. This program is a part of that good plan that he has for you.”
Farris also spoke of the importance of faith in overcoming addiction.
“You can’t do this without God,” Farris said. “We don’t tell you where to go to church, but we want you to go to church. I hope each of you continue to cultivate your relationship with Jesus and God.”
There are currently more than 50 people in the Walker County Drug Court. Participants who complete the program find themselves in a graduation ceremony like Friday’s. If a participant flunks out of the program, they are transferred immediately to prison.
Farris said the program doesn’t cost taxpayers anything.
“This is a free program, and we’ve actually saved the state a lot of money in incarceration costs,” Farris said.