ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Angelina County is celebrating 14 years of offering drug offenders second chances via its drug court program, and at least two East Texans said they’re glad it did.
The drug court program was started because members of the judicial process recognized the futility of sending offenders who have a bonafide addiction to the penitentiary.
“If their conduct is being given by an underlying addiction, if we send them to the penitentiary, they will return within 3 years,” said Paul White, Angelina County judge. “There’s a 75 to 90 percent chance of recidivism within 3 years of their release. It’s a revolving door in and out of the penitentiary.”
The first drug court program started around 35 years to put a foot in that revolving door, and the results have been wildly successful, White said.
“A 35 year track record nationwide is that we reduce a minimum recidivism return rate the penitentiary of 70 percent to 27-and-a-half percent,” White explained. “So, there’s nothing that compares to it. So yes, it is successful.”
Jeremy Alexander is one of the enrollees who will soon celebrate beating those odds. He will join his fellow program attendees in graduating the program on Thursday, March 21.
“I struggled with addiction for many years, you know, and it eventually caught up with me and I got arrested,” said Alexander. “I actually got sent to treatment through probation, and when I got out of probation I wanted some more structure in my life, and some more stability because I really wanted to stay sober”
Alexander said he spoke to his probation officer for guidance, and was enrolled in the drug court program as a result.
“I’ve learned a lot: I’ve learned how to live a structured life, I’ve learned the tools I need to stay sober," Alexander explained. “I surround myself with positive people, people who are in recovery.”
Alexander said his biggest motivation was becoming better for his family; a subject that’s just as difficult for fellow graduate Carrie Mitchell, who said her turning point came when she realized the person sitting across from her cell was her daughter.
“We were both in jail together, but I was across the way, but I seen her, and that was about where I decided I needed to do something different,” Mitchell. “Just seeing her come into jail. She didn’t have good example to follow, and I decided that’s when I needed to change.”
Mitchell explained that besides offering resources to successfully kick her drug problem, the court offered something she never expected: judgment-free advice and help.
“I had decided that I was pretty much set in my life, that I wasn’t going to be able to change,” Mitchell recalled. “But Judge White seen something in me that I didn’t. So they provided treatment, and I went to treatment for 10 months.”
Since nearly completing the program, Mitchell said she’s reconnected with children she hadn’t spoke with in years. She said for anyone who may be going through the same thing she went through, she’s got one piece of advice: get help.
“Don’t settle for thinking that’s all you can do, because you are capable of change,” Mitchell explained. “I’m 49-years-old and thought I could never change, but I was wrong.”
“Our goal for my drug court has been more than just sobriety. I wish everyone would refrain from drinking and drugging, so to speak, but that’s not my ultimate goal," said White. “The ultimate goal is sober living, and that’s a much higher level of conduct of contemplating the consequences of your conduct, not only about yourself and family, but in others.”
White said a bill is currently in the Texas legislature which would provide funding to drug courts which would be sustainable. White said the idea is that taxes from things like alcohol would go toward helping substance abusers with treatment, rather than going toward penitentiaries.