Drug court celebrates commencement

Published 2:52 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

John Hockett didn’t have transportation, but he had to get to treatment, counseling and work, or he would lose his chance at a new life through drug court.
So he walked.
Depending on where he needed to go, he walked from Walnut Hill to Atmore, from Flomaton to Atmore, and then from Flomaton to Brewton.
But the most important document earned by Hockett and his two fellow graduates — Alice Grantham and Christopher Jay — was the dismissal of their drug cases.
Escambia County drug court officials, law enforcement and family members celebrated drug court graduation Friday, known as National Drug Court Commencement Day because of the 20th anniversary of the first drug court, founded in Miami.
Drug court uses an accountability system of counseling, treatment and random drug testing to divert drug offenders from jail and get their lives back on track. The program is designed to last a year, although many participants take longer to get through the phases because they must start over if they backslide. Short-term trips to jail are among the penalties for failed drug or alcohol tests.
For graduates, though, the rate of success is much higher than that of offenders who go to jail. Sixty to 80 percent of people who leave prison re-offend within a year, Byrne said. The recidivism rate is 40 percent for those on probation.
For drug court graduates, the rate is just 17 percent.
Byrne said drug court was founded because law enforcement and court officials “got tired of seeing the same people over and over.”
Escambia County’s drug court was among the first in Alabama. Nationwide, there are more than 2,300 drug courts.
Friday’s graduates included:
Clean for 20 months, Hockett is considering plans to enter the military. “He’s accepted his role as a father, and he has great plans for the future,” Byrne said.
Byrne also thanked the drug court staff, law enforcement, attorneys, courthouse staff, staff at Southwest Alabama Mental Health and other supporters for the work they have done to maintain drug court.
Sheriff Grover Smith thanked Byrne for his leadership and for establishing drug court.
Smith said the tough fight in the war against drugs often makes law enforcement officials want to give up.