Special to the Las Vegas Tribune Two big screens projecting a mug shot served as the backdrop for 42 Eighth Judicial District specialty court graduates in Las Vegas as they celebrated their drug-free, crime–free life after an intensive treatment program. A packed room filled with friends, family, counselors and even the judges who sentenced the participants, looked on and applauded, as one by one the graduates faced friendly heckles on their mug shots, collected their certificates, thanked their judge and counselors and shared their emotional road to recovery. Standing before the audience, a nervous graduate named Armando said he was so excited that he couldn’t sleep the night before. Barbara, who was chosen to speak on behalf of the mental health court graduates, said that the program helped her to overcome a 35-year drug addiction. A DUI graduate named Jason just said that he was happy to have his family back. Many of the graduates brought prepared letters to read, including Marcus who said, “Thank you to the program that saved my life.” He read a heart-wrenching letter that recounted his despair during his addiction and ended by saying, “I hope to make the world a better place.” One 20-year-old said that it was good he caught “it” when he was young because he didn’t think that he would make it to be old. The audience laughed, applauded and echoed the thought. Judge Linda Marie Bell who presides over the specialty courts commended the graduates and said, “I know how hard you’ve worked and what you put into the program. You inspire me.” Specialty courts solve issues through a rigorous and coordinated approach between judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, parole and probation, law enforcement social service and treatment communities. All work together to help participants recover, live crime-free and become productive citizens. There are thousands of specialty courts nationwide. The Eighth Judicial District Court’s drug court is the fifth such court established in the nation. District Court was the first to pilot a juvenile drug court, first for a child support drug court, dependency drug court and prison re-entry court. Since its inception locally, the drug court program has helped to ensure that more than 650 babies have been born drug-free to mothers in the program. Next week in Washington, DC, more than 4,000 treatment court professionals will convene at The National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ (NADCP) training conference, the world’s largest conference on substance abuse, mental health and the criminal justice system. NADCP reports that “nationwide, 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program. Drug courts significantly reduce crime as much as 35 percent more than other sentencing options. Nationwide, for every $1 invested in drug court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone. When considering other cost offsets such as savings from reduced victimization and healthcare service utilization, studies have shown benefits range up to $12 for every $1 invested. Drug courts produce cost savings ranging from $4,000 to $12,000 per client. These cost savings reflect reduced prison costs, reduced revolving-door arrests and trials, and reduced victimization. Parents in family drug court are more likely to go to treatment and complete it. Children of family drug court participants spend significantly less time in out-of-home placements such as foster care.“ The primary service provider for the District Court program is Choices. WestCare and Salvation Army provide in-patient services. Last year, 530 participants graduated from District Court specialty court programs in the Eight Judicial District.
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