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Drug Court graduation marks decade of treatment

The Kitsap County Drug Court celebrated a series of milestones on Friday, holding its 37th commencement ceremony and awarding its 287th graduation certificate. And it also celebrated ten years since the founding of the program, which provides treatment alternatives to jail terms for habitual drug offenders.

We are really excited about this,” said Superior Court Judge Jay Roof, who founded the program and still presides over most of the sessions. “You can see the energy and the hope that people have in or program.”

The ceremony filled the commissioners’ chambers to capacity, with the 13 new graduates cheered on by family, friends and county officials.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna served as the keynote speaker, conceding that the main attraction was the graduates themselves.

Almost every county in the state now has a drug court,” McKenna said. “But there is no county that has been more committed to the serious application of drug court as Kitsap. And it is marvelous to see how many graduates come back and cheer on the new graduates today. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the program.

“As of today, this program has improved 285 lives, and the lives of all their families,” McKenna said. “There is no doubt that drug courts work. There are few programs in the criminal justice system that enjoy this level of success.”

McKenna said the continuation of drug court will eventually strengthen families and decrease the need for foster care.

“The people in this program are a demonstration of choosing hope and promise over hopelessness and addiction,” he said. "No one can go back and make a brand new start, but all of us can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

McKenna spoke out against cutting funding for drug court programs, in light of their success.

Michelle Fleetwood, who graduated from Drug Court one year ago, lauded the program for its support

“I was able to break a cycle in my life,” she said. “Prior to Drug Court, I was a graduate of Superior Court. I had been charged with seven felonies by the time I was 38 years old. Drug Court gave me the opportunity to reassess my character and become accountable for my life. Now, I am able to offer hope to other people.”

During the ceremony itself, each graduate was singled out for their accomplishments while their booking photo was shown on the large screen above the podium. In all cases, the difference was startling.

Some of the graduates articulated their progress, while others became emotional and could only offer their thanks to the counselors, their classmates and Roof.

The tone wasn’t all serious, as counselor Steve Kohrt, noting that he had no children, referred to graduate Christopher Wright as “the son that I am glad that I never had.”

Roof underscored the importance of drug treatment and how it has affected thousands of families across the county--even his own.

“We lose a third of our potential jurors because they have been so severely impacted by drugs or addiction that they cannot be fair and must be excused,” he said. “Each of out candidates has summoned the courage to tackle and acknowledge their addiction, and break the cycle of drugs in their lives, for them and their families.”

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