Juvenile drug court celebrates 100 successes; graduates lauded

PORT ANGELES — Before she came to Clallam County’s juvenile drug court, Tommy was a lost soul.

The 15-year-old was charged with minor exhibiting the effects of consuming alcohol after she was caught drinking vodka in her first-period class.

“You mentioned that you don’t really remember who the officers were — I can see why,” defense attorney Suzanne Hayden told the teen at her graduation from drug court.

Tommy made no effort to vomit into a trash can provided by a police. She “began to vomit down the front of her clothes while sitting in a slumped position,” Hayden said.

“It is so hard for me to picture the tragedy of this child, who was not only so heavily intoxicated that early in the morning on vodka but so far down the beaten path that you were vomiting on yourself and you didn’t even care,” Hayden said.

“It’s such a graphic, graphic story of where you were.”

Clean and sober

Flash forward 541 days.

Tommy has been clean and sober ever since.

On Wednesday, she joined three others who were collectively honored as the 100th graduates of the court-supervised substance abuse treatment program for Clallam County juveniles.

Preston Kayes, coordinator of the adult and juvenile drug courts since their inceptions, said Tommy’s sobriety has made a “world of difference.”

“What you are today is a confident young lady,” added Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood, who presides over the juvenile drug court.

“I think about a flower that’s blossomed.”

Drug court requires at least one year of complete sobriety. It also entails an intensive outpatient program, beginning with three group treatment meetings and four self-help meetings per week.

Some have gone to inpatient treatment for up to nine months.

“We require weekly progress reports from school,” Wood said.

“They cannot graduate from drug court without some type of plan or certificate. They need at least a GED or some comparable job skills such as a welding certificate.”

If successful in drug court, charges are dismissed.

Early doubts

Wood admits that he initially questioned whether the court system would work with juveniles.

“It does,” Wood said. “I’ve seen it. And participating in drug court is not an easy assignment for these kids.”

The first drug court was born in Miami in 1989 when the Dade County criminal justice system was overwhelmed with drug-related cases.

A task force proposed the idea of imposing sanctions if a defendant doesn’t follow through with treatment.

“They were amazed,” said Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams, who organized the drug courts here.

“The result was recidivism and crime rates and court dockets dropped dramatically.”

Williams knew four defendants who died of drug overdoses in his first 18 months on the bench. He was inspired by a talk he heard from a Multnomah County, Ore., judge at a conference in the mid-1990s.

Portland’s was the fourth drug court in the nation.

A local problem, too

“I thought, ‘You know what? We have a drug problem here in Clallam County that is every bit as severe as they have in Miami and in Portland or anywhere else. Maybe we ought to try this program,'” Williams said.

Williams convinced the naysayers, and he spearheaded an effort in 1996 to win a $600,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to start the drug courts locally.

“This is a good program,” Williams said. “This is a program that saves lives.”

In 1997, the county’s juvenile drug court became first in the Pacific Northwest, the 12th in the nation and the second in a rural county.

Clallam County’s adult drug court turned 10 and graduated its 200th participant in a ceremony on Oct. 21.

Williams presided over both courts before passing the juvenile drug court gavel to Wood six years ago.

“In my professional life, there is nothing I have done that has been more rewarding than being a drug court judge,” Williams said.

The volunteer drug court team includes defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, treatment providers, county staff, judges and others.

Problems of the young

“The problems facing young people today are tremendous,” Wood said.

“We start first in the home life, with the lack of parental guidance and the lack of discipline and often drugs being used in homes, to the unrelenting peer pressure to conform.

“These are kids who often come into drug court not only on drugs but with little or no self respect, no direction and failing miserably at school.”

At the drug court graduation, the juveniles first get a change to “take their shots” at the team that pushed and prodded them along.

All four of last week’s graduates simply thanked the volunteers.

Friends, family members, treatment providers, attorneys and judges offer words of encouragement and stories of transformation.

Megan was described as angry and unhappy when she came to drug court last year. She has been clean for more than 400 days, erased two misdemeanor charges and is now in pursuit of a nursing degree.

“Today is an acknowledgement of the job that you have done, but this is not a destination today,” Kayes told her.

Keep it up

“This is time to be rewarded and acknowledged, but you need to keep up this work because there’s a lot in front of you.”

Another graduate, Anthony, was described as a slippery troublemaker when he entered drug court. He was charged with selling cough syrup.

“I didn’t know who you were — and not too sure I cared much for who I thought you were,” Kayes told the graduate. “It was confusing. . . . You were one story after another.”

Anthony has been sober for the past 17 months. He was certified in a Peninsula College welding class and has reversed what was a nose-diving high school career.

“Anthony has really achieved some big things while he’s been in drug court,” Wood said.

In addition to their certificates, graduates received documentation of their dismissed charges. Several rounds of applause greeted each graduate.

“I’m very proud of every one of the graduates that we’ve had here in the drug court program, even though some have fallen back to the old patterns after leaving our supervision,” Wood said.

“It’s a thrill for me and for the others on the drug court team to see the blinders come off and the light bulb turn on, to see anyoung person embrace life and the potential it has for them. It’s a thrill.”

_______

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected] news.com.

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