Sioux Falls, SD
An alternative program that aims at turning around the lives of drug abusers, and saving the community money by keeping them out of jail and prison, is celebrating a milestone in Sioux Falls.
The stories that bring those enrolled in the alternative program called "Drug Court" are all different.
"I've been using since I was 12-years-old. I've been a felon since I was 13. All I've known is getting into trouble. I kind of assumed that's what I'd be doing my whole life," Aaron Meyer said.
Yet those stories are all the same.
"Just had kind of a long road, you know, bad history I guess you could call it," Mindy Jennings said.
Aaron Meyer and Mindy Jennings are two of the fourteen members of this class of Drug Court in the Second Judicial Circuit. The program is celebrating an anniversary as it started a year ago in a Minnehaha County Courtroom. Since then, those in the program have been through intensive treatment, been under supervision and randomly tested for drugs three times a week. The goal is to stay clean.
"Pretty difficult; the first few months were pretty hard. But they encourage us and show us it can be done," Meyer said.
The drug court meets in the same courtroom every Wednesday morning at 8:45. And the judge who oversees it says she can see the successes.
"I look at these folks and they're dealing with life and they're actually doing what everyone else should be doing and they're learning how to do it. And they're doing well, very well; 3,000 days of sobriety with this group of 14," Judge Pat Riepel said.
And above the personal achievements of each class member, Second Circuit Judge Pat Riepel says the program is benefiting everyone. She estimates in just one year, it's saved the state $150,000.
"It's not easy, but you can put somebody in the penitentiary. But they come out and you still haven't dealt with the issues. Here, we're dealing with it up front and hopefully we'll continue to be successful," Judge Riepel said.
But for the 14 members and their families, their individual successes are reward enough.
"It means they gave me a second chance, that there's hope and that I can amount to something," Meyer said.
"Just supporting the fact that we're getting through this, we're not using, we're keeping our jobs, doing all right things we're supposed to be doing and getting our lives back," Jennings said.
Nationally, drug courts have a 75 percent success rate. If someone on the program fails a drug test or commits another violation, they start back at the beginning. Each person must complete two years of sobriety before graduating.