After more than a decade as a superior court judge, John Girardeau was frustrated and disheartened after seeing the same faces in court year after year.
He knew drug addiction was at the heart of many crimes. But without drug treatment services in Hall County, addicts left the court system only to reappear on another drug-related charge.
So in 2000, with the help of colleagues and the district attorney's office, Girardeau established Hall County's Drug Court.
On Wednesday, Girardeau was awarded for his service as an inductee in the Stanley M. Goldstein Professional Drug Court Hall of Fame. He received the award from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Washington, D.C.
Girardeau was honored, but like most people who deserve a big reward and then finally receive it, he was a little embarrassed.
It didn't help that the National Association of Drug Court Professionals has about 3,000 members.
"It was probably the largest group of people I'd ever spoken to," Girardeau said.
Girardeau began his term as a superior court judge in 1987. Hall County's Drug Court was one of only three such courts in Georgia and one of fewer than 60 in the country.
Since its beginning, Hall County's drug court has seen 321 graduates. Through the programs, certain criminals are screened to see if they can benefit from drug treatment services. Criminals convicted of violent crimes or drug trafficking are not eligible, Girardeau said.
Girardeau said he doesn't have any hard facts and figures on the effects of drug treatment services on crime rates.
But the recidivism rate for criminals in drug treatment is less than 5 percent, which speaks to the court's reforming effects, he added.
"From that alone you can conclude that it has a substantial effect on the crime rate," he said.
Times have changed since Girardeau's fight for a drug court in Hall County. Now Georgia has more than 60 drug courts.
And a large part of the boom was due to Girardeau's efforts.
"One of the things that probably qualified Judge Girardeau in the hall of fame was the fact that he was one of the driving forces behind the empowering legislation that was passed to support drug courts," said Reggie Forrester, the court administrator for the 9th Judicial District.
Girardeau drove to the capital and met with legislators to make sure legislation that legitimized drug courts passed in Georgia, Forrester added.
"There's not an accountability court in the state of Georgia now that does not reap direct benefits from his efforts," he said.
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal is the current judge over drug court in Hall County.
Deal was the assistant district attorney and helped Girardeau in his efforts to establish the drug court.
"Judge Girardeau has been a mentor, and he was the visionary who brought to life the drug court in Hall County and Dawson County. He's helped spread the idea of drug courts throughout the state," Deal said.
Because of Girardeau's efforts, Hall County is a frontrunner in treatment services for criminals, court observers say. In addition to drug court, the county has a DUI court, Mental Health Court and Family Treatment Court, among others.
These accomplishments caught the eye of the top executive at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.
"Judge Girardeau has made an indelible mark on Georgia's criminal justice system," said the association's CEO West Huddleston. "His foresight and dedication has been a catalyst for Drug Court expansion in his circuit and across Georgia."
The Stanley M. Goldstein Hall of Fame was named for Judge Stanley Goldstein, who created the first drug court in the country in Dade County, Fla., in 1989.