Tenth Year Anniversary – Appalachian Judicial Circuit Drug Court & Family Drug Court Graduation

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A graduation ceremony was held February 16th at the Chattahoochee Technical College in Jasper, GA. The graduates were those completing a 2-year alcohol and drug intensive outpatient treatment program. This is an alternative program for defendants who have issues with drugs. Our current District Attorney, Joe W. Hendricks, Jr. told us,

“Drug Courts can serve as a useful alternative to prison or regular probation for dealing with the defendants who illicitly use drugs. When appropriate, drug courts can provide more intensive supervision than regular probation but at less cost than confinement.”

The Drug Court Team is as follows:
• Larry Clemmons – Drug Court Probation Officer
• Julia Panter – Specialty Courts Coordinator
• Joe Hendricks – Prosecutor
• Mike Parham – Public Defender
• Lynn Bishop – Treatment Provider
• Lori Clayton – County Chief Probation Officer
• Bill Cole – State Chief Probation Officer
• Brandon Owens – Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force

Introduction of Guest Speaker, Honorable Carol W. Hunstein, Chief Justice Supreme Court of Georgia was made by Honorable David E. Ralston, Speaker of the House.

A crowded room was filled with excitement and anticipation. Drug Court Graduation night – the 10th Anniversary. I have never attended anything like this and wasn’t sure what would take place. As I watched the faces in the room it seemed that everyone was happy. Then Honorable Judge Weaver addressed the crowd, explaining some important points about the program and more importantly the people involved with making the program possible.

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Then what we had all been waiting for – the graduation began. As one by one the individuals walked to the front and began to explain how their lives were changed by the program – it dawned on me, it was not just a change, but a true transformation. Then family and friends came forward, speaking on the graduates behalf and expressing pure joy at having their loved one back. It was as though they had been abducted by a force that could not be understood and then miracliously returned to their true selves.

I slowly began to realize that was exactly what had happened. Drugs rob, kill, hurt, destroy, maim, and the list goes on and on. Without this program the outcome for these people would be vastly different. The graduates would most likely be incarcerated without much hope upon release. But because of this program those lost in the evils of drug addiction are transformed.

They have received the assistance to defeat that addiction allowing so many lives to be changed. Not only the user, but their family and friends and much wider than that-their community will benefit. The program boasts impressive success rates but the most impressive thing was to witness the words of the graduates. Then to hear the heartfelt joy of the ones that loves the graduate and took part in the celebration and excitement of life returned.

Gilmer County Sheriff, Stacey Nicholson was in attendance and when later asked how he felt about the program, he shared the following,

“It was a pleasure to attend the 10th anniversary Drug Court graduation last Thursday. I am a diehard supporter of the drug court program as I have seen the success stories that come out of the program. The treatment the participants receive, but more importantly the strong deterrence set forth in the program for them to stay clean, is something they don’t get in any other program.”

The statistics of this program are impressive with 104 participants that received their GED, 42 in process of receiving their GED, and 14 that have started college while in the program. But a stronger impression will be made if you will take the time to watch the video for yourself. The drug court’s alternative approach to an issue that plagues so many is an inspiration and I pray it will continue to be a wide spread program incorporated across our Country. Video will be posted soon.

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