Sioux Falls, SD
Two repeat drug offenders are celebrating their sobriety after graduating from the Sioux Falls drug court program on Wednesday.
Logan Roberts, 22, was one of the graduates but when he entered the program just over two years ago, he wasn't a believer in drug court.
"It's something you got to be wanting to do and I wasn't, so I got in trouble at the beginning and figured I was just going to go to the penitentiary," Roberts.
But sending repeat drug offenders to prison isn't what the program is about and Wednesday, Roberts stood up in court, 586 days sober, as a graduate.
"You guys have been a really big help to me. I'm really grateful for the opportunity to have been in drug court," Roberts said during his graduation speech.
Roberts says the turning point was when drug court members gave him a tour of the prison and told him that he could either live there or strive for a life of sobriety.
Cora Martin had been an addict since she was 16 and said she used drugs so heavily she would have probably died before she went to prison, but she also graduated on Wednesday after spending 618 sober days on the program.
"This saved my life. This definitely saved my life,” Martin said. “I give thanks to everyone in this drug court program, even the people who are going through it with me. We have all stuck together.”
Drug courts require offenders to come to court every week and attend regular treatment and counseling sessions. If they don't show up or fail drug tests they are ordered to do community service, or sent to jail.
Judge Pat Riepel leads the Sioux Falls program that aims to keep repeat offenders out of prison.
"This program takes those types of individuals in hopes of breaking the cycle," Riepel said.
Right now Sioux Falls and Sturgis are the only two places that have drug courts, but just a few weeks ago a state work group recommended expanding the program to help control the rising prison population.
"I know they are making every effort to expand this type of alternative sentencing because it has a positive affect, not only on the people but on the system, so it's always good to be proactive," Riepel said.
Because even someone like Roberts, who didn't think the program would work for him, stood up and said it changed his life.
"To give me the chance to prove to myself, my family, and everybody in drug court that I can go without drugs. Today, on this day I can finally say I'm a man and I hope you all can say the same thing,” Roberts said as he concluded his speech Wednesday.
The governor's office says Governor Dennis Daugaard will likely talk more about the expansion of drug courts and DUI courts in his upcoming State of the State address in January.