URBANA — The 14 men and women graduating from Champaign County's drug court Monday have pretty much worn out their welcome at the courthouse.
Collectively, they've been sentenced 129 times, 24 of those sentences to the Illinois Department of Corrections. And they're responsible for 56 felonies, 57 misdemeanors, 94 petty traffic offenses, 17 ordinance violations, and six juvenile adjudications.
If the skills they've learned to cope with their addictions take hold, they hopefully will not be back. And that translates to savings for Champaign County and Illinois taxpayers.
"Being very simplistic, taking an average year of (drug) treatment at $5,000 and penitentiary time at $24,000, if they spent the same amount of time in the penitentiary as in drug court, the difference is $415,625 in savings," said Judge Jeff Ford, overseer of the drug court since its inception in 1999.
"It's nice for the taxpayers to know we're not just incarcerating everyone and doing away with them. We're trying to get these people to become productive citizens and turn their lives around. This isn't easy," Ford said.
Of Monday's 14 potential graduates, one made it through the program in just a year. Another took three years.
They will be the 25th class to graduate and will bring to 166 the number of men and women sentenced to the program who have remained crime-free and sober for at least a year. They range in age from 22 to 52 and have pretty much been lifelong alcohol and cannabis abusers, one having started the use of those at age 9.
Others moved on to the even more addictive cocaine and heroin.
Denise Johnson, 29, was sentenced to drug court in July 2010 for stealing, a crime apparently related to her drug addiction.
In an essay she wrote for Monday's graduation, Johnson said drug court was not easy but it helped her regain custody of her son and her self-esteem.
"I recently enrolled back into school with the help of drug court and Prairie Center. My relationship with God, my family and friends is stronger, closer and more meaningful than ever before. I view drug court as a blessing and I am honored that I was able to partake in it. Thank you for caring enough to see me through this gloomy, bitter and hopeless tunnel of addiction and leading me to a lighted better future tomorrow," she said.