Drug Court provides opportunities for a better life for graduates

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Graduate Ernest Davis Jr. displays his certificate flanked by Judge Desiree Dyess, left, and Judge Lala Sylvester. Davis said Drug Court gave him a second chanced at life. “I can now be a better son to my parents, father to my kids and am an employable citizen.”

By Carolyn Roy, Carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

Tenth Judicial District Court Judges Desiree’ Duhon Dyess and Lala B. Sylvester presided over Tenth Judicial District Adult Drug Court graduation ceremonies Feb. 5 in Natchitoches. Eight participants completed an intensive 24-month drug court program according to Dep.

Merry Byers, NPSO Drug Court Coordinator. The mission of drug court is premised upon the ability of the judge, with the help of all the justice system shareholders, to closely supervise individuals who need treatment services and to administer immediate consequences for their failures and successes.  Persons who have been found guilty of felony crimes and who have substance abuse problems are put under the strict supervision of the court, provided with drug treatment and are required to be employed.

Drug court participants are required to appear before the judge on a regular basis to review their progress. They are drug tested regularly and required to attend varying levels of treatment based upon the individual need of each participant. Violent offenders and drug dealers are not eligible for the drug court program.

District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington and Sheriff Victor Jones work closely with the program and the District Attorney’s office determines which defendants are appropriate candidates. The sheriff provides court security, supervision of probation services and general coordination of daily operations.  The judges and staff of the drug court program say that each of the participants must decide that they are determined to change

their lives in a positive way for themselves and their families. They have shown the ability to do so and are willing to be responsible adults. “We are extremely proud of them,” Dyess and Sylvester said.

During the session, if a participate slips, they are given a sanction.  That could be anything from a strong verbal warning from the judge for first offense, to a written assignment, community service, inpatient treatment or jail time. But they are not automatically put out for a slip. As to the drug testing policy, each participant is drug screened randomly at least two times a week.

During Phase I, they go to court every Wednesday, Phase II twice a month, Phase III, IV and V, once a month. Drug screening fees are $25 a month. Participants only pay a $25 drug testing fee each month and the court absorbs the rest of the cost.

If a participant tests positive and wants to dispute the results, they pay $35 for it to be sent to the lab. If the lab confirms the positive result, the participant then is fined an additional $50.  If results come back negative, the $35 is refunded. A session runs for a minimum of 18-24 months.   The number of people in a session is from three-four in the smallest group up to 10-12 in a larger group, but the average is six-eight. Usually, participants are not allowed to repeat the program, however decisions are made on a case-by-case process.

Using the Supreme Court as a guide, a candidate is considered successful if there is no re-arrest for a felony within two years of graduation.

Retired 10th Judicial District Court Judge Eric R. Harrington started the Adult Drug Court Program in 2004.