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.
“I’m proud of this group,” Farris said Friday in his courtroom. “This program isn’t easy, but all eight of these graduates have done everything asked of them.”
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 $17,391 in restitution and court costs, and Farris said the program’s 60 graduates to date have paid almost $140,000.
Graduates of the program each receive a certificate of completion and an order of dismissal on the charges they were facing.
“You have worked hard and now you are in the driver’s seat of your life again,” said Walker County Commission Chairman Billy Luster, the guest speaker at Friday’s graduation ceremoney. “I am proud of the achievements you’ve made, and from this day forward, you are in control of your destiny. We will all be here for you and will support you, but it is up to you now.”
Michael Phillips, who graduated from the program on Friday, said drug court has changed his life forever.
“My life was unmanagable,” said Phillips, a Gulf War veteran. “It was getting worse every day, and I’m so thankful that I got this opportunity.”
Farris said Phillips went “above and beyond” the program’s community service requirements, totaling more than 225 hours.
“I am proud of you for the service you’ve done in this community, and I’m thankful for your service to our country,” Farris said.
For Friday’s graduation ceremony, Farris asked the graduates to participate in an essay writing contest, with the winner to receive $500 in gift cards. The winner of the conest was Allison Arnold.
“This life is so much better than the life I had before drug court,” Arnold said before reading her essay.
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 saved the state around $3 million in incarceration costs,” Farris said.