After 10 years, drug court recounts success

About 240 have graduated 18-month strenuous program



FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — From those who enter Forsyth County Felony Drug Court program, about 40 percent are terminated before graduation.

But for about 240 graduates, the road to recovery and the rate of success is good.

Only 13 percent of the graduates will use drugs again, Chief Judge of Forsyth County Superior Court Jeffrey S. Bagley.

“We certainly wish these statistics were lower,” Bagley said. “We would never compromise the integrity of the program just to improve statistics. We are here to change lives.”

Currently, there are about 80 participants being monitored in the program, an average number on the program.

The Forsyth County Felony Drug Court celebrated its tenth anniversary with a special graduation ceremony Jan. 17 at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College.

Bagley conducted the graduation ceremony for four graduates after welcoming visiting judges, state and local officials and other dignitaries.

Jennifer Johnston, Forsyth County Drug Court coordinator, said the participants in the 18-month program go through treatment groups, community support group meetings, random drug tests at least twice per week and attend court initially at least once per week.

“As they move through the program, the requirements lessen,” Johnston said.

By the time they are at the last phase of the program, they appear in court once per month.

Johnston said the drug of choice right now is heroin and other opiates.

When the program started 10 years ago, the focus was methamphetamines, but there has been a shift to prescription pills and heroin.

Seeing participants graduate the program is certainly rewarding, Johnston said.

“This is why we do what we do, if not for these, it would be very frustrating,” Johnston said. “All of us as a staff live for the graduations and the success of the graduates.”

In 2003, the program was being formed by former Chief Judge of the Superior Court Richard S. “Stan” Gault, who died of a massive heart attack on July 23, 2003.

Bagley was then summoned to be Chief Judge and took on Gault’s vision to head the drug court program and in January 2004, they took on their first participant.

The Forsyth County Drug Court’s intent is to stop the revolving door of substance abuse and arrest by linking together drug-addicted offenders to drug treatment and judicial supervision.

Instead of spending time in jail, eligible participants are provided the option to complete a substance abuse program supervised by Bagley and monitored by a team of support staff, prosecutors, attorneys, probation officers, law enforcement and drug treatment providers.

This highly specialized team links Forsyth County’s criminal justice system with community treatment professionals in a collaborative environment to monitor and support the participant’s recovery.

“This is now one of the toughest drug court programs in America,” Bagley said.

At the graduation event, former Atlanta television anchor Warren Savage, who graduated from the Forsyth County Drug Court program, shared his story about cocaine addiction and how his decision to participate in drug court allowed him an opportunity to experience a life of sobriety.

“It was a very tough time for me in drug court, until I learned humility,” Savage said. “There is a rewarding, fulfilling and successful life after addiction and on the other side of drug court.”

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