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Drug court graduates do well, statistics show

60 percent of participants complete program

POSTED: April 12, 2014 12:17 a.m.

Hall County’s drug court program is an alternative to incarceration for drug offenders. Successful completion ensures there is never a conviction on their record.

The program most recently graduated two participants in a March 25 ceremony at Gainesville’s First Baptist Church.

It’s an intensive program that lasts a minimum of two years, and includes group meetings, drug screens and counseling. But at a graduation rate of 60 percent according to programmers, can strictness come at the expense of well-meaning participation?

Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, who heads the program’s weekly court sessions, said most people terminated from the program exhibit outright noncompliance — they don’t show up.

“I think the main reason people are terminated from drug court is because they’re simply absent. They leave and pick up a new charge,” Deal said. “They’re gone for too long before we can find them again.”

Although the graduation rates aren’t perfect, the statistics excel in other areas. More than 90 percent of participants are employed, according to Debbie Mott, director of treatment services for Hall and Dawson counties.

Another favorite statistic among the court’s staff is babies born in drug-free households: To date, there have been 45 drug-free babies born to participants, Mott said.

Recidivism is less than half that of offenses statewide at 16 percent, she said. That figure is based on the number of new felony convictions within five years post-graduation. Recidivism statistics statewide only account for felony reoffending within three years, and hover around 39 percent.

The program was founded by Judge John Girardeau more than 10 years ago.

It’s clear from the anecdotes at graduation ceremonies that many successful participants were not initially pleased with the life changes and structure the program demands, and participants can be sanctioned — but not necessarily terminated — for actions from minor behavioral issues, like being disrespectful, to more serious issues, such as testing positive on a drug screen.

“We have some things that are automatic terminations,” Deal said. “A new felony offense; if you have a DUI that gets bound over; it’s an automatic termination if you go AWOL twice.

“It would be just like if someone was released on bond and didn’t go to court,” he added.

It’s not always simple to predict who is more amenable to the program and who isn’t, Deal said.

“Sometimes you get a feeling somebody might run or something like that, but you never know,” he said.

The program is interested in people’s success, Deal said. It’s often not too late to turn a bad start around.

“I’ve had folks that went AWOL off the bat, and then they started their sanction, had some time sobering up, and they’re working and doing great now,” Deal said. “You just never know.”


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