Nineteen specialty court graduates honored for their achievements

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 4:34 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since the first specialty court, Drug Court, started in Calcasieu Parish.

They now include DWI, behavioral health, veterans and re-entry from prison. The specialty courts help divert people who are not hardened criminals from prison by helping them get on a new path.

And last night’s graduation shows they are changing lives.

They are moms and dads, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who at some point lost their way.

A large crowd of those who provide services and family members of the 19 graduates gathered at a local church for the celebration. Each graduate received a certificate from the judge or judges who oversee the 14th Judicial District Court program in which they participated.

Each graduate stood before the crowd and said words of appreciation. “Me doing this program and being off of drugs, I’m proud of myself,” one woman said, whose achievement was met with applause.

Her husband was emotional as he told the group, “I just want everyone to know, I’m proud of her, and life starts now.”

Another man graduating stood at the podium saying, “It feels good to be sober. I’m a year and a half sober,” which brought enthusiastic applause.

“I’ve seen my son come from a very dark place back into the light because of this program. He worked his butt off for it, and I appreciate everybodydy who helped him,” his father said.

The graduates had to receive a recommendation for one of the specialty courts based on their history. To graduate they had to go through an intense program, including random drug testing. Some graduates admit it has saved their lives.

“I spent the last 25 years lost - completely lost. Without the support of the people behind me and the people in this room, I wouldn’t even be alive,” one graduate said.

“I’m just really proud of him,” a family member said tearfully.

It takes an army of committed people: judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, treatment specialists and more to get to graduation day.

Judge David Ritchie told graduates, those working 24/7 to make the program effective are truly concerned about those in the program.

“They’re all pulling for you, they’re all behind you. They want you to have a better life, and I think it’s good that you know that. And that they’re supporting you and funding you,” Ritchie said.

And all involved know it’s not an easy road for the participants who succeed in the program.

One young woman addressed the crowd concerning her father.

“Without you all, my dad would probably be in prison right now. So, I thank you all for helping my dad stay sober,” she said.

It was a moving celebration of achievement and hope for the future.

“I’d like to thank God, author and finisher of my faith, and all of you kind people who take your time out to make this thing work and give people like my son another opportunity to be my boy. I’m so glad to have my boy back.” one father said.

Not all are eligible for the specialty courts - such as violent offenders or sex offenders. Contact the Calcasieu District Attorney’s office for more information.

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