DESOTO COUNTY, MS (abc24.com) - Tuesday, October 25, 2011, is graduation day in DeSoto County for three dozen people convicted of felony drug crimes. They've been drug free for three to five years. Not only is a court program helping them turn their lives around, it's saving the state millions.
"The program is no short of a miracle," said Ben Williams. "There's no other way of me to say it. Drug court completely changed my life."
Williams is one of 36 graduating from DeSoto drug court. He's spent the last three years in the rehab program, and is no longer addicted to the drugs he started using at age 14.
"Street drugs, prescription drugs, it created a lifestyle for me. I wanted to be somebody. When I started using drugs, I forgot about who I wanted to be. I lived my life for using," Williams told abc24.com.
After almost a decade of making destructive choices, Williams made one right and entered the drug court. It's broken into 5 phases, each lasting 9 months.
"We're looking to help someone who has a drug problem," said programs coordinator Craig Sheley. "To graduate you have to have 36 consecutive months clean."
Participants are drug tested several times a week. They have a 10 o'clock curfew and must make regular court appearances. They're also required to keep a steady job.
"What we do is hold them accountable," Sheley told abc24.com.
If someone fails any part of the program, they return to zero. With only five years to make it through, there's not much room for failure. It's a big risk because if someone fails a drug test they're put in jail to serve the maximum term for the crime committed.
But there's a big reward, and not just for those kicking the habit.
"If you locked up these 36 participants for three years it would be right at a cost of $1,616,220," said Sheley. "That's a pretty big savings right there."
Add to that amount the money everyone graduating has paid in court fees, and the state's saved almost two million dollars.
For Williams, it's saved more than that.
"When came in, I lived at home. I had no care or job. Now I have a really good job that I'll have worked at for three years in December," Williams told abc24.com.
He also has a wife, two year old son and a bright, drug-free future .
DeSoto's Drug Court program has an 83% success rate. There are more than 250 people enrolled right now. Anyone charged with selling drugs or a violent crime is not eligible.