Drug Court holds first graduation

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 12th Judicial Circuit Drug Court of Pike and Coffee counties held its first drug court graduation ceremony on Tuesday in Coffee County with six participants graduating from the two-year program.

The second graduation ceremony will be at 11:30 a.m. Monday in the main courtroom of the Pike County Courthouse. Six will graduate from the program.

Drug Court Coordinator Dennis Griffith said the drug court program is a highly specialized team process with the existing Circuit Court structure that addresses non-violent, drug-related cases.

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“Drug courts are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and the drug treatment professional,” Griffith said. “Drug court programs are rigorous and require completion of one to two years of intensive drug and alcohol treatment and testing.”

Participants follow a tightly structured regiment of treatment and recovery that begins when a person is arrested and charged with a drug offense.

When an attorney has been retained or appointed, an offender may apply for the drug court program.

Griffith said an application has to be passed over to the Drug Court team for final approval.

A substance abuse assessment determines whether the participant needs to be placed in a residential program and away from drug sources or in the outpatient program.

“The outpatient program is a two-part program,” Griffith said.

“The first part is four months of intensive counseling and group therapy and then an after care program from once a week, up to 20 weeks. During this time, the participant must report back for random drug testing from four times a week to every other month, depending on progress in the program.”

The drug court team meets twice a month to track the progress of the clients.

The team is made up of the judge, as assistant district attorney, two public defenders, the drug court coordinator, a case manager, the substance abuse counselors and law enforcement.

“The drug court team reviews the individual cases to determine if the participants are compliant or non-compliant,” Griffith said. “The team hands down sanctions and rewards. If they successfully complete the program, their case is dismissed with prejudice, meaning that it can not be brought back up again.”

Griffith said the purpose of drug court is to reduce the prison population of non-violent offenders.

“These are usually first-time offenders,” he said. “Those who are selling, distributing or manufacturing drugs are not eligible for the drug court program. So, the drug program gives its participants a chance to straighten up rather than go off to prison. It’s a beneficial program all the way around.”