GENEVA – The graduates lined up, 24 of them in maroon robes, and proceeded to the stage with their family, friends and supporters filling the auditorium, holding bouquets and snapping photos.
Each had gone through the Kane County Drug Rehabilitation Court program – agreeing to treatment, urine monitoring up to three times a week, to coming to court once a week, agreeing to surprise checks at home, work or school reporting to parole officers and drug court staff – instead of going to prison.
“This is not just about drug addiction and drugs, but about life,” said retired Judge Patricia Piper Golden, who had presided over the drug court. “We hope you will go forward and live sober and healthy lives.”
Graduate Dean B. said when he entered the program, he had “nothing really to live for.”
To protect their privacy, the program identifies graduates only by their first names and last initials.
“I have a steady job,” Dean said. “I have a spouse in my life a year and a half now and love my life. … I’m putting my paycheck in the bank instead of smoking it up. … I am a sober, recovering drug addict, and I thank you for my health.”
Telley R. recounted how he blamed others for his life.
“My mother never told me to go out and get high; these are choices I made,” Telley said. “I thought I had this program because I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. I had a problem with life. I had a problem with rules. I had a problem with authority. … Tonight is not closure for me. This is the beginning.”
Judge Marmarie Kostelny, who presides over the drug court now, recounted how studies show drug courts reduce the incidence of addicts returning to drug use. All 24 graduates, she said, have a full year of sobriety, jobs, school or both.
“You are living proof of why drug courts work,” Kostelny said. “These 24 individuals are sober, productive, law-abiding citizens, and we are so proud of them.”
If they had been sentenced to the maximum years in prison, it would have cost the state of Illinois nearly $3.6 million.
Kostelny said later that drug courts make more sense than a punitive approach, as 95 percent of those coming out of prison return to a life of drug use.
“Drug courts are more labor intense, a little more costly than traditional probation, but the payoff is ultimately so much greater,” Kostelny said.
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen, who attended the drug court graduation, praised it and said he was committed to continue funding its program.
“The work that all of these staff members, all the families, all the graduates – it’s invaluable,” Lauzen said.
“And to have all these people focused on a constructive thing that we can do together rather than being in the punishment mindset. If anyone doesn’t believe in redemption, they should come here and see what happens in these folks’ lives.”