URBANA — Five people set to graduate from Champaign County's drug court program have been to jail or prison a total of 21 times in their adult lives.
If the knowledge and skills they've learned over the last several months sink in, they won't be going back.
That's what the administrators of the intensive program hope, anyway.
"By keeping these defendants in Champaign County and not sending them to the penitentiary, not only have we saved money, we have kept families intact, had participants working, paying taxes and learning how to live in the community without using drugs or committing new crimes," said Judge Jeff Ford, a nationally recognized leader in the drug court field.
The class set to graduate Monday at the Urbana Civic Center is the 30th for Champaign County and marks 206 people to have completed the program since 2000.
To graduate, a participant must be sober and crime-free for at least a year, have completed substance abuse treatment, been involved in a self-help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, and have a sponsor.
By the numbers
A closer look at the four men and one woman who make up the 30th graduating class of Champaign County's drug court program:
38: Age of oldest graduate
21: Age of youngest graduate
14: Average age when they started using drugs
14: Felony convictions for the five
19: Misdemeanor convictions
43: Petty traffic tickets
National group honors Ford
If the participant had not graduated from high school, he must have obtained a GED or be in the process of getting one.
URBANA — A 29-year veteran of the Champaign County bench has amassed yet another award for his work helping drug-addicted criminals.
Judge Jeff Ford was inducted into the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Hall of Fame at a training conference earlier this year in Anaheim, Calif.
Before he even started Champaign County's drug court program in 1999, Ford presided over traffic court for eight years. There, he made substance abuse evaluations in driving under the influence cases mandatory and began routinely ordering substance abuse treatment and counseling as part of DUI sentences.
Related to his work with drug court, Ford helped incorporate the Illinois Association of Drug Court Professionals in 2000 and served on its board of directors. As president of that group, he helped dissolve that association and form the Illinois Association of Problem Solving Courts in 2013. He has served as president of the newer group since its inception.
Since 2000, Ford has organized and presented assemblies for high school students on the consequences of driving under the influence, failure to use seat belts and texting.
He has served on numerous committees of the Illinois courts, the Illinois Secretary of State, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the University of Illinois at Springfield in the area of traffic safety.
In 2010, the Illinois Traffic Safety Leaders presented Ford with the Joanne Blair Award for exemplary leadership. In 2012, he was recognized by the National Association of Social Workers as their Public Citizen of the Year for East Central Illinois and the state.
Illinois now has more than 100 problem-solving court programs, many of which have visited Champaign County to see how Ford's court works.