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Large number of drug court graduates celebrate recovery, return to community at Ardmore's Central Park

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
The group of 20th District Drug Court graduates who were able to make it to the celebration in the park Thursday evening pose for a group photo.

Seventeen graduates walked across the stage, followed by rounds of applause, at Ardmore’s Central Park Thursday evening. Each individual being recognized had completed the local drug court program and gone through recovery from illicit drug use or alcohol abuse. 

The graduating participants will be returning to the community, each with jobs and support lined up to ensure their success. As one of the largest graduating classes in awhile, 20th District Drug Court Executive Director John Terry said there are high hopes that this class will reduce the recidivism rate, where they will have not reoffended after two years.

“I believe that that would be the accomplishment for each one of them individually,” Terry said. “If they can go from here today and apply the tools that they’ve used and come back and get help if they need it — and then go back and keep their families intact, keep their jobs intact and serve the community.”

Drug courts offer non-violent offenders who enter the criminal justice system treatment and a chance to repair their lives, reconnect with their family and find long-term recovery. 

Graduation from the 20th District Drug Court Program occurs when treatment, supervision and all other program requirements have been completed. Terry said participants are required to be sober for a minimum of 120 consecutive days. 

The program is court-supervised, whereas participants are required to make regular court appearances and attend weekly treatment services. This includes random drug testing, individual and group counseling, specialized counseling and regular attendance at self-help meetings. 

Each participant must also have a job and be financially responsible. The goal is to get participants out of the program within 18 to 22 months. However, participants may be in the program for much longer if needed. 

For many of the recent graduates, money was the biggest obstacle to graduating. Terry said several individuals had met the requirements, but still owed money on legal fees. The stimulus check issued earlier this year played a part in helping those individuals pay off their fees and graduate. 

Terry said this may explain why the number of graduates has increased recently. “Our theory is that a lot of folks received a stimulus check and were able to get their fees paid,” he said. 

Despite the courthouse being closed for a full month in April due to COVID-19, Terry said the program was still able to continue. “We worked with the participants to get them through this,” he said. 

Drug testing was provided the whole time and most recovery groups in Ardmore maintained regularly scheduled meetings. Terry said some of the faith-based recovery groups held online meetings and participants were allowed to attend virtually with the requirement that they submit writings demonstrating what they got out of the meeting. 

With the addition of several grants from various organizations and a recent grant from the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, the 20th District Drug Court has established more mental health services for the graduates and their families as they return to the community. 

“So now our drug court program can work with the families to continue their care afterwards,” Terry said. “When they leave our program once they graduate, if their family needs crisis intervention we are able to provide financial support.” 

The 20th District Drug Court also plans to work with Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers, which recently received a $2 million grant to expand services, to help better the outcomes of drug court. 

Many graduates go on to serve the community, with some having ties to the local drug court board and one of the recent graduates on Thursday starting his own recovery group in Wilson. Terry said he hopes that this class will represent an ongoing trend of drug court participants returning to the community as productive and responsible citizens. 

“Our outcomes have probably not been the best in the past few years, but with this group we will see a trend upwards,” Terry said. “The ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism because we know that clean and sober living effects the criminality and lack thereof and we see it every day in Ardmore.”