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Atlantic Judicial Circuit Drug Court Foundation
Atten: Fran Arnsdorff, Drug court administrator
721 E. 46th Street
Savannah, GA 31405
As nine graduates of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit Drug Court filed into the commissioners’ boardroom in the Liberty County Courthouse Annex on Thursday afternoon, it was impossible to tell the difference between those who once struggled with substance-abuse problems and those who had never touched drugs in their lives.
Audience members dressed in their Sunday best watched as the graduates offered testimonials and celebrated their completion of the two-year program.
Eldane Wyche came to see her 28-year-old daughter, Sabrina Stafford, graduate from the program after years of fighting an addiction that tore the family apart.
“It’s like she’s a baby, just beginning to walk again,” Wyche said. “I’m so excited. It was long and hard. She made it and I’m so proud of her.”
The Drug Court Program is a 24-month, intensive outpatient-treatment course that requires participants to pay $1,000 toward the cost of the program, maintain a full-time job and attend group counseling several times a week.
Participants also are required to attend three Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week, attend court once a week and submit to random drug tests, among other requirements, the Honorable D. Jay Stewart, judge of the Superior Courts, said. The program was established in January 2009 and has served 73 total clients from seven different counties.
The Drug Court staff determines eligibility. Potential participants must meet with a treatment counselor, and the District Attorney’s office runs a criminal history on the participant.
“One of the basic concepts is that a person charged with a drug or drug related felony cannot be ‘sentenced’ to Drug Court. Entry into the Drug Court program is gained by the defendant expressing a desire to live free of drugs and alcohol,” Stewart said. “This is a 24-month treatment program for non-violent offenders.”
More than 50 people filled the room Thursday to listen to former addict and keynote speaker Michael Wolfe, a former Chatham County Drug Court participate, talk about how his life spiraled out of control because of drugs and alcohol before he enrolled in the program.
“I would go to great lengths to get my next hit,” Wolfe said. “It took me some places I really was ashamed of.”
Thirteen felonies later and a few visits to jail, his parents pressed charges and got him locked up again. Wolfe said his presentation was the first time his parents had heard his story.
“It was the best thing they ever did for me. Every Sunday they came to see me when I was locked up. Every Sunday,” Wolfe said.
After the last visit, Wolfe found himself looking to the Drug Court program. He stumbled a few times — using and getting thrown back into jail — but eventually graduated in 2005 from the program.
“The staff genuinely cared about me … the drug court staff is genuine and I think that’s why this thing works so good,” he said while looking directly at the graduates in the front row. “To the graduates, you know, this is a great day for you. I’m proud for ya’ll.”
Stewart gave each graduate a wooden plaque, which proclaimed them officially free of drugs and alcohol, before allowing them to tell their stories to the audience. They presented unique accounts of struggles, successes and hope for the future. Many plan to finish college, keep steady jobs and strengthen family ties.
The event concluded with a message from Stewart about how the community can embrace the program and donate to help individuals struggling with addiction.
“These folks go back to the community as productive citizens,” Stewart said. “We’re talking about changing lives. It takes money to do what we do. It takes money to do quality work.”
The Atlantic Judicial Circuit Drug Court Foundation, Inc. was created to allow residents and supporters to make tax-deductible contributions to help with the cost of the program.
“It benefits folks right here,” Stewart said of the foundation. “One of the best parts of the program is the significant reduction in costs incurred by the taxpayers. We are not immune, however, from these tough economic times. Drug Court has proven to be the most effective means we have ever used in the court system to reduce recidivism rates and stop the treadmill that many get on (including) arrest, prosecution, conviction, incarceration, release, repeat, etc.”
Funding for the program will end June 30 and $300,000 is needed for the 2010 fiscal year, according to a worksheet on the Liberty County Drug Court from Stewart’s office. The total cost of the drug court is $117,000 a year for nine graduates, compared with the $324,000 required to cover jail time.