The seven defendants were facing a total of 160 years in prison, at an estimated cost of $2.3 million in incarceration costs. By completing the program, they have repaid more than $15,000 in restitution and court costs, as well as saving the taxpayers the costs of incarceration because the program participants pay for all of the costs associated with drug court.
Since its inception, 466 people have applied for drug court, but only 228 have been accepted.
Once accepted to the program, participants must sign a document pleading guilty to the charges against them. That guilty plea is then held until they complete the program. If they do not adhere to the strict rules of the court, the guilty plea is processed and they are taken to begin serving their sentence. If they are successful, they receive a framed letter of dismissal of all charges as a graduation present.
During phase one of the program, graduates appear in court every week; during phase two they appear every other week, and, in phase three, they appear just once a month. They are also drug tested randomly from three to five times a week or wear a patch that constantly monitors them for drug activity. Participants must also abide by a curfew and attend regular support meetings related to substance abuse.
Throughout its history, the drug court, supported heavily by the circuit and district judges in the county, has seen 50 participants earn their GEDs. Nineteen are currently enrolled in GED classes, 14 have enrolled in college, 62 have received their driver’s license, and 102 have been sent to rehab. Graduates have also paid approximately $235,000 in restitution and court costs back to the victims and people of Walker County. This amount does not include the costs of drug court itself, counseling, rehab or drug testing, all of which is also paid by the program participants
According to District Judge Henry Allred, having the participants out and working has resulted in almost $5 million in incarceration savings and more than 193,280 hours of community service performed for the benefit of the county, throughout the history of the program.
The total savings is calculated based on the daily average cost to maintain a prisoner, multiplied by one-third of each defendant’s sentence.
Each drug court graduate also has to write an essay on their life and the impact drug court has had on them. The winner of the essay contest is announced at the graduation and is asked to read his or her essay out loud.
The winner from this graduating class said she began smoking pot and drinking when she was 13 years old.
She began hanging out with an older crowd and said her substance issues accelerated to taking anything she could find. This landed her on juvenile probation and then in a group home, before she got her first DUI at age 17, when she struck another vehicle head on.
When her dad died, she said she began using meth, liking the way it made her feel. She was arrested at 23 for trafficking meth and possession of marijuana and then arrested again later for manufacturing and trafficking meth, as well as possession and tampering with evidence.
She said she elected to try drug court but didn’t really buy into the program. Then she violated one of the program’s rules and was arrested. Instead of sending her to prison to serve her time, those over the program opted to send her to a long-term rehabilitation center.
Being forced to get clean and stay clean gave her time to realize that she needed to make a permanent change in her life, for her and her kids.
“I’ve been clean now for 21 months, and I owe it all to the drug court for giving me back my life,” she read tearfully.