The most recent graduates provided the labor that remodeled the courtroom. Farris and County Commission Chairman Billy Luster proudly told the packed courtroom that the dedication of these workers and other partners meant that not one penny of the work came from taxpayer money.
That’s not the only place that the program has saved taxpayer money. The numbers don’t lie — 68 people have completed the program since its inception, those graduates have paid approximately $180,900 in restituation and court costs that were returned to the county, program success has saved the state approximately $3,574,080 in incarceration costs, and graduates have also provided approximately $1,132,450 (156,200 hours at minimum wage) in community-service-related labor.
But, those aren’t the numbers that matter to Farris and the others who have devoted themselves to the success of the program.
“We’re proud of the money savings, but that isn’t our focus,” Farris explained. “Our goal is to get people off drugs.”
The numbers they like to boast about are the 41 participants who have taken their GED test, 14 who are currently enrolled in GED classes, six who have enrolled in college while participating in the program, the 38 who have received their drivers licenses and the 72 people sent to rehabilitation to help deal with their addictions. There are also the six defendants who have obtained custody of their chidren and the four others who have been able to improve their custody and visitation with their children after completing the program.
The rigorous program usually takes between 12 and 24 months to complete and includes paying all the court-assigned fines, costs and penalties, attending substance-abuse support meetings, appearing in front of the judge regularly, observing a 9 p.m. curfew, remain employed and drug tested three to five times a week. The participants pay for this drug testing themselves, as well as the counselling, so the cost burden doesn’t fall on citizens.
Participants enter a guilty plea to the drug charges they are facing at the beginning of the program. If they do not complete the program, they are sent to prison to serve the time for the offense.
Those who complete the program have their charges dismissed and their records are clean.
The six new graduates celebrated Friday were able to complete the entire program and expressed their appreciation to the judge and other people who make the program possible.
“Life before drug court wasn’t much of a life,” one participant said after describing a life of addiction where he neglected everything, including his daughter.
Another said, “I was killing myself, but I knew I didn’t want to die.”
Luster and Farris urged the participants to take advantage of their fresh start and make the most of a chance many never have.
“You’ve hit the reset button,” Luster said. “From this point forward is what counts.”