Drug court gives first time offenders a second chance

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County’s Drug Court Graduation took place Wednesday, Jan. 17, at 3 p.m. in Courtroom D of the Okeechobee County Judicial Center with 19th Judicial Circuit County Court Judge, Jerald D. Bryant, who presided over the proceedings. The graduation is for the celebration of the successful completion of felony, misdemeanor and juvenile Drug Court program.

The mission of the 19th Judicial Circuit Drug Court is to provide a cooperative team of diverse professionals and community leaders who work to coordinate service to support individuals in becoming drug free and productive citizens. Drug Court is a structured court process designed to increase public safety and reduce crime in a cost efficient manner.

Drug Court is a program for first time offenders who have been arrested for a qualifying drug offense. Drug Court provides the opportunity for substance abuse treatment. After successfully completing the program, the participant has developed skills to manage their substance abuse issues. The charges are dismissed.

Drug Court also has participants who are involved as a special condition of probation/community control. The participants learn skills to manage their substance abuse. The charges are not dismissed at the successful completion of the drug court program.

There are currently 16 specialty court programs in the 19th Judicial Circuit with three offered here in Okeechobee County: felony drug court, misdemeanor drug court and juvenile drug court.

Drug court providers in the 19th circuit are members of a drug court team comprised of a judge, and representatives from court administration, the Public Defender’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, Department of Children and Families for Family drug courts and social service providers in the community. These entities meet weekly to discuss client progress prior to court and then attend or participate in court hearings.

In attendance for the event were: Okeechobee City Mayor, Dowling R. Watford. Jr; Chairman of the Board of Okeechobee County Commissioners, Terry W. Burroughs; Okeechobee County Sheriff, Noel Stephen; and Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD) Major, Donald Hagan.

“Congratulations to all the graduates, this is the beginning of something new,” Chairman Burroughs stated to those finishing the program.

Mayor Watford reminded the graduates that their choices are not limited to only affecting them, but also their loved ones. “It affects not only you but your family and I would encourage you all to join groups of people that can give you support,” he stated.

Sheriff Stephen’s message for the graduates was, “Hard work, dedication and doing the right thing is harder than doing the wrong one, and congratulations to you all.”

Major Hagan let the graduates know they are being afforded another chance to have a clean record and avoid incarceration with his uplifting statement, “You’ve got a golden opportunity here — take advantage of it.”

Judge Bryant brought the “reality check” in light of the ceremonious recognition stating, “Just because you graduated this program does not mean your work is done.” He finished his sentiments with his optimistic message, “You’ve been successful here and we all want you to be successful in the future.”

Recidivism — a tendency to lapse into a previous pattern of behavior, especially a pattern of criminal habits — is no secret in the criminal justice system. The messages from both, the sheriff and major, along with the judge, conveys the acknowledgment of the efforts of a modern society attempting to resolve an over-crowded incarceration system with the Drug Court program.

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