In 2016, Wright County created a program called The Turn – an alternative program also known as Adult Drug Court that serves as an adult treatment court for Wright County residents. At 1:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25, three graduates of The Turn will be honored with a participant recognition parade outside the Wright County Government Center in Buffalo.
Judge Michele Davis of the Tenth Judicial District explained that anybody who comes into the criminal justice system that is charged with a non-violent felony offense and is a Wright County resident is screened to see if they’re eligible for drug court. The Turn targets those deemed to be at high risk to re-offend and are in high need of services, such as those that deal with chemical dependency.
The program lasts up to two years and is extremely rigid. Those who graduate from The Turn need to be extremely committed to sobriety and making a positive change in their lives because graduating requires diligence and perseverance.
“It’s a strict program that provides strict supervision and accountability of the offender,” Davis. “There is frequent and random drug testing, regular mandatory court appearances, frequent appointments with their probation agent, a significant amount of treatment hours and they have to reach different program goals through the 18 to 24 months they’re in the program. Once the reach all of those goals, then they graduate.”
Since its creation in 2016, 45 Wright County residents have been in The Turn program. There are 13 people that are still in the program and 17 participants that have graduated.
Davis explained that participants need to make the decision whether they’re going to commit to changing their lifestyle and they know that there will be a reward at the end of the program if they’re willing to abide by the rules.
“It’s up to the prosecutor to develop a plea agreement with the participants before they enter the program,” Davis said. “If they successfully complete the program, it can result in a dismissal of the charges or it could result in a reduction of charges. Most often, it results in no prison time or jail time.”
The Turn isn’t a “get out of jail free” program by any means. Unlike probation, where meetings with probation agents are infrequent and regularly scheduled, participants in The Turn are constantly being tested as to whether they’re living up to their end of the agreement.
Those who participate in the program are aware ahead of time how stringent the requirements are, but also the benefits that come with successful completion of the program.
“It’s an extremely difficult program,” Davis said. “It’s much more difficult than traditional probation. If you were charged and convicted of a felony – typically probation can last anywhere from five to 40 years – you would probably see your probation agent maybe once a month. If you were being drug tested as a part of that probation, you would only be tested when you see your agent. There’s nothing random about it. It’s not frequent. By the time our participants graduate from The Turn, if they’ve been in the program for two years, they’ve been taking urinalysis tests at least twice per week – about 200 times. On traditional probation, they get 12 drug tests a year. Our participants come to court every week at the beginning of the program, every other week as they progress and finally come once a month at the end. They see a judge 50 times before they graduate. Participants know probation would be easier, but the benefits of this program are so much greater.”
Davis said the graduates who will be honored June 25 have earned the distinction of completing the program, which was only possible by a single-minded determination to reclaim their lives.
“These graduates have a lot to be proud of,” Davis said. “When they enter the program, they know they have to complete a long process to prove themselves worthy of graduation. It’s an honor to see those who make it through the program graduate. It’s taken a lot of effort and they’ve displayed that they want to have a better life, which is what the program is all about.”