Drug court ceremony meaningful milestone for grads

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tara Boyd hugged her mother and kneeled down to give her daughters a kiss before entering the courtroom."She's supported me through everything," Boyd, 29, said of her mother Debbie Nickles, who cared for her three daughters while she struggled to beat a prescription pill addiction.Boyd, along with Tim Anderson, Robert Hill, Rose Means, Rebecca Wright and Brandon Wilfong, all graduated from Kanawha County's drug court program Thursday."This has helped my daughter get back on track," Debbie Nickles said. "It's a miracle."The drug court acts as a diversionary program for people who are addicted to drugs and have been charged with relatively minor crimes. In lieu of jail time, participants take an extensive testing, counseling and community service program run by the court system to help them control their substance-abuse problems. If they complete the program, prosecutors agree to dismiss their criminal charges.Kanawha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey, who leads the drug court, said during Thursday's graduation ceremony that the court has graduated 44 participants since it began in 2009. Less than 14 percent of those participants were arrested again after they completed the program, she said.In all, the program has saved the county $2.6 million on its regional jail bill, Bailey said.
However, Anderson said the financial savings isn't the most important aspect."The most important thing is it saves lives," he said to the crowd of law enforcement officials and friends and family members of participants in the courtroom, just before receiving his certificate. "And I've seen many people die from drugs and alcohol."Anderson, a recovering alcoholic, was skeptical about the program at first, but decided to participate to avoid prison. Being in his early 50s, he was the oldest person in the group."It was a little weird being the older guy with gray hair," he said. "But here I am today, a graduate. ... I have future goals."While holding back tears, Boyd said, "I feel sorry for others addicted who don't have this opportunity."Drug courts will be a requirement in all West Virginia counties by 2016, thanks to legislation passed earlier this year. Thirty-one counties currently offer the program, according to Bailey.West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin sympathized with the graduates' dedication and hard work in fighting their addictions."There will be times that are tough, but you have a support system," Benjamin said, looking the graduates in the eye, "and if there's ever anything I can do, I'm right down the boulevard."Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.
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