Judge gives addicts chance to recover in drug court instead of putting them behind bars

DECATUR, Ala. -  Addiction is something that plagues many families across the country including in North Alabama. One program aims to help people face their problems before they end up behind bars.

Some people associate courthouses with sentencing and jail time. While that's sometimes true, there's a judge in the Morgan County Courthouse who says he wants to help change the lives of addicts in a different way.

80 percent of crime in the U.S. is fueled by either drugs or alcohol.

But Morgan County Circuit Judge Charles Elliott says incarceration has been proven ineffective for treating drug addiction.

"When people come into our drug court program, they're so focused on getting that next use getting that next high that the threat of going to jail doesn't phase them," Elliot explained.

He said change is top priority but that doesn't happen overnight.

"They need short-term goals. Before they can think about a lifetime of sobriety, they've got to think about being sober and clean today," he added.

When addicts fall short of those goals, Judge Elliott said he makes sure consequences encourage self-reflection.

When people in the program make progress, even baby steps, they are celebrated.

"We try to use incentives, maybe its a gift certificate to a restaurant or tickets to a ball game. For some people it's as small as applause for a job well done for the past few weeks," he added.

Elliot explained that the program has yielded more than 280 success stories in the past decade.

He said his ultimate goal is to help addicts reclaim their independence, and help them lead healthier lives.

Nationally, 75 percent of people who complete a drug court program are arrest-free two years later.

Elliott says he hopes new partnerships with community organizations will expand the program's reach.

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