Four people, surrounded by family and friends, celebrated the beginning of a new, upgraded life Wednesday at the latest Newton County Adult Treatment Court Graduation.

Four people, surrounded by family and friends, celebrated the beginning of a new, upgraded life Wednesday at the latest Newton County Adult Treatment Court Graduation.
Begun in 1999 by 40th Circuit Court Presiding Judge Timothy Perigo as Adult Drug Court, Adult DWI Court was initiated later and then the Juvenile Drug Court. The program has evolved into the treatment courts, Treatment Court Administrator Alissa Hendricks said.
Pushed by the state, the program has expanded beyond dealing with substance abuse and is looking into mental health and veterans’ issues to help community members. Perigo also saw that the community needed something different, Hendricks said.
“We needed a different way to approach the problem that we were seeing time and time again,” she said, “because the same individuals were coming in month after month with the same issues, and he knew there had to be a different way to handle that.”
A 65-percent success rate of graduation for 474 participants who have gone through the program is well above the state average, Hendricks boasted. Most participants are looking for a way to avoid a consequence, but the program offers more.
“Sometimes that’s going to prison, and they are looking at what options they might have,” she said. “For many of our participants, their first goal is just to get out of the trouble that they are in, but a lot of times they find that through the treatment court they get so much more than avoiding a consequence. They really change their lives, and they should be very proud of what they have accomplished.”
The treatment court cannot be successful without a team of dedicated and caring professionals, Hendricks said. She and the graduates lauded the efforts of team members Deb Allman of the Lafayette House, Lauri Gulic with the Probation and Parole Office, defense attorney Keisa Williams and Joe Tobin of Ozark Center.
Hendricks congratulated the persistence of the graduates, two who were there because of drug dependency and two who found their way into trouble through problems with driving while intoxicated.
“It’s not an easy way out,” she said. “A lot of people think, ‘They committed a crime they should have a punishment.’ You know, they do, trust me. It is not an easy road that they go through to be in this program and to get through it successfully.”
Graduate T.J. flourished as he underwent the program. “He always tells us what we’ve done, that we’ve re-established his family for him,” Hendricks related. “His children see a difference in him and others see a difference. To me, that really speaks volumes because it goes beyond what we can do for just one person a lot of times. We can reunify families, we can create bonds that maybe weren’t there before.”
A quiet sort, T.J. thanked his family and the treatment court team for helping him turn around his life.
Graduate Zack “just flew through the program,” according to Hendricks. “He just came in and did what he needed to do. He took it seriously, and we’re real proud of him as well.”
Zack gave praise to his mother for his success. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know if I could have done it.” He also mentioned his grandmother, his girlfriend and Tobin for helping him through.
Graduate Renee had a hard go at it at times, Hendricks noticed, but she put forth the effort to make a lot of changes in her life. “She started to focus on herself, and I think that’s a wonderful thing that we’ve helped her with.”
“I have changed,” Renee agreed. “I appreciate it. Thank you everybody.”
Graduate Karen had a rough road going through the program, but Hendricks said she made real changes to her life. “She got a job and started working, just really made some tremendous changes that improved her life.”
Karen acknowledged that going through the program was a hard road, but worth it. She thanked the team, her family – especially her sisters for the support they provided – and her good friend and sponsor, Michelle.
“Me and her spent nights together just on the phone crying and talking,” she said. “It’s worth it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. It’s a good program.”
Karen said the program is a life changer. “It definitely is worth it. It’s a very important program. I’m thankful for it. I probably wouldn’t be standing here today. I probably wouldn’t have woke up one morning, so I’m very thankful.
“It changes your life and your way of thinking. It definitely changes your way of thinking. Before drugs and alcohol were most important; now it’s living your life and being a good citizen. All around, it’s an awesome program.”
Upon receiving their certificates of completion, Newton County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Skouby advised Karen and T.J. that he dismissed the criminal charges they were facing before undergoing the program.
It’s rare to have the continuity of the program, as Perigo indicated he and Skouby have been a part of it since its inception 17 years ago, while Gulic has been a part of the team for eight years.
“We just work as a team,” Perigo said. “Everybody listens to each other, and then we try to find the right solution when we deal with issues, which are generally someone does something they shouldn’t do and they have to be held accountable. What is that? Is it jail? Is it community service? We generally, the staff, reach a common decision.”
Instead of incarcerating some people, Perigo said the community is better by allowing participants to turn around their lives and the lives of others by successfully completing treatment court.
“If you look around and you see that baby (in the audience) right there, it’s going to be with its parents,” he said. “If you can make their family whole again, A, they are not in foster care; B, the parent’s working; C, they are paying taxes; D, we’re not paying for their upkeep. It’s a win-win.”