Graduation ceremony held for drug court participants

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 1:17 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - It was graduation day Tuesday for eight participants in the Craighead County Drug Court.

Circuit Judge Melissa Richardson said the people who go through the program are charged with a non-violent felony in circuit court, and they pleaded guilty to that felony. Instead of being sentenced, they are transferred to the drug court program.

Those who are a part of the program must submit to multiple random drug tests, attend support group meetings, individual and group counseling sessions, maintain stable employment and housing for at least a year.

Something that has been a challenge during the pandemic.

“Early on we had to shift to virtual proceedings where we presided by Zoom and everyone joining us from remote locations,” Judge Richardson said.

The support group meeting also went virtual, but whenever they were able to meet again in person, Judge Richardson said they did.

“I’m a big believer that as soon as we can get in-person we need to shift to that,” Judge Richardson said. “We benefit more from that, particularly in the recovery atmosphere.”

Some of the graduates began the program just before COVID-19 shut down large parts of society, but requirements remained the same. Participants had to maintain stable employment and housing, had to partake in random drug screening, and attend all of the support services required.

“So we did not change our expectations,” Judge Richardson said. “And so these folks are really to be commended because they have maintained during the pandemic, in a challenging year for everyone, particularly challenging given their treatment status, but they prevailed, and they did an excellent job in the program.”

Judge Richardson believes the program is a tremendous opportunity because it gives those non-violent offenders the option not to go to jail and be productive citizens.

During the graduation ceremony, graduates heard from past graduates of the program and special guest, Solomon Graves, the Arkansas Department of Corrections Secretary.

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