Drug court expands to new Richmond County home


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)  – A local judge held court in a new location in hopes of accommodating more people who want to turn their lives around.

People from Richmond, Columbia and Burke Counties saw some space challenges when they all met at the Judicial Center.  If environment means anything, it will just be another positive for drug addicts making a change.

Kelly Griffith is one of the success stories.

“I lost my house, my belongings, my children at that point,” she told NewsChannel 6.  She’s now reclaiming her life back.

The point of no return sparked by substance-abuse brought around 40 people to drug court.

“I was a criminal addict and I did criminal things to support my addiction,” Ashley Ivey told us after court.

She has ended her relationship with her addictions. It’s all part of the deal when people with felony convictions work on sobriety and recovery. Participants, who were protected from being seen on camera due to HIPPA, moved to the municipal building after outgrowing the Richmond County Courthouse.

“Space wise it was very convenient versus being squished up in the benches,” Donald Streetman said.

Ivey added, “It is bigger. It is better. It doesn’t feel like we’re about to go to jail,” she said.

Superior Court Judge James Blanchard said the program started with a handful of people in 2008 and now, with a 65 percent success rate, it is bursting at its seams forcing its 125 capacity drug court inside new walls.

“Many times we have to capacity people who are there and it’s very difficult for them to come into the courtroom along with support staff because of the Fire Marshall,” Judge Blanchard said.

Safety in the new seats also means lives will be saved.

Grovetown resident Michael Dick feels his life is better.

“I feel like an adult. I’m paying my bills. I’m working two jobs. People trust me now,” he shared.

Andrew Marshall, of Evans, simply changed the crowd he was hanging around to claim restoration.

“Young kids dropping out of school and not really having any structure in their life. It really puts structure into your life or back into your life if you lose it.”

Drug court is no more than 3 years.  A curfew must be followed and of course randomized drug testing takes place for participants.

“We don’t take violent criminals. We don’t try to take drug dealers. The people who have a true addiction, we have a special treatment plan for them and hope that we will make the city and county safer, the community safer and make productive citizens out of these people,” said Judge Blanchard, who also runs Veterans Court and Mental Health Court.

During court, Judge Blanchard challenges participants to think about their future goals and dreams. Some already have a plan in place.

Christina Weeks said she has been in jail multiple times, but drug court and Hope House gave her a new lease on life.

“I want to get into the cares program. I want to give back. I want to do something that’s recovery based,” she said.

Elaina Ashley runs the Drug Court program.  She told me there have already been three graduations this year.  The last one is in December.  She said there was only a portion of the participants meeting for the first time at the municipal building.

The parking lot was full, but the security area didn’t seem to bottleneck.  Judge Blanchard said they will meet in Richmond County once a month. The Marshal’s Office and Sheriff’s Office provided some additional staff.

The District Attorney decides who can participate in Drug Court.  Anyone wanting to know more information about it should contact the program coordinator at 706.823.4424 or eashley@augustaga.gov.

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