Looking out over the front pews with 16 Drug Court graduates, Superior Court Judge Jason Deal congratulated the group for passing the arduous program akin to a “boot camp.”
“We taught you the skills that we could teach you,” he said. “We helped you learn where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. But now you’re going out into that battlefield of life.”
Deal and members of the program gathered Friday afternoon at Gainesville’s First Baptist Church to honor its largest class of graduates in its 14-year history. Beginning with Deal’s predecessor Judge John Girardeau in 2001, the program boasts 530 graduates and holds the distinction as Hall County’s first accountability court program.
“This county believes in treatment,” Deal said.
A typical class of graduates, Deal said, will have about five people.
Going down the pew, Deal recognized each graduate for the journey made to graduate from Drug Court. The program typically lasts two years and includes drug screening, substance abuse counseling and regular appearances in Deal’s courtroom.
“Some started using when they were 10 years old,” Deal said. “Others started later in life.”
The program’s motto, Deal said, is that “you’ve got to show up, be honest and try.”
“The victory is not today. ... Because you have a choice every day. Make the right choice,” Deal said.
Deal added that he doesn’t hope to see them again in his courtroom unless they are serving as a juror.
“Among these 16 graduates, two of them are working to get their nursing licenses reinstated, three have become the program’s strongest mentors and most have regained everything they lost due to their addiction,” Hall County Treatment Services Director Debbie Mott said in a news release. “To date, 51 drug-free babies have been born to Drug Court participants, and 87 percent of the participants are employed. This program is making a difference.”