"Prison does not work." Drug courts pushed as "proven alternative."
Walker County faces a major drug problem. Heroin, meth and prescription pill abuse are overwhelming the court system. Judge Henry Allred says prison is not working to control the crisis. He believes drug courts are proven to both help addicts and save money.
A recent graduation for drug court highlighted several success stories.
"I've had a million chances. If I can do this, anybody can," remarked 51 year old Ray Kennedy.
Kennedy was deep into drugs both selling and making meth. He was involved in shootings and even a stand off with local police. In his words, he did anything to stay high.
Many would have said throw the book at him, after facing 25 years in prison, Kennedy was finally ready to change. A personal tragedy was the final push.
"My first born was killed in a car wreck at 26," recalled a tearful Kennedy. His son was following in Kennedy's destructive lifestyle. Kennedy says he wanted to earn the love and trust of his other two sons.
Through the heartache and struggle he found a life worth living.
"I never realized how many people loved me. Drugs, they isolate you," warned Kennedy. With a church behind him, drug court helped save his life and earn the love and trust of his family.
Judge Henry Allred describes drug court as an intense program based on accountability, counseling and constant supervision. So far, 159 have graduated in Walker County.
Judge Allred gives impressive results: 85 percent don't re-offend. Compare that to prison where 83 percent end up back in trouble.
"This is a proven approach. We are involved in every aspect of their lives, where they live, who they associate with, how they spend their day," explains Judge Allred. He says it's not about leading a perfect life, but being accountable.
Another plus, the program supports itself. The drug offenders pay for their counseling, drug testing and monitoring. When you look at the cost and failure of prison, program administrators say there is no comparison.
Kennedy says he now realizes it was a blessing to get caught.
"It wasn't an arrest; it was a rescue. My life was saved by all of you," he told those attending the graduation in Jasper.
The drug and veteran courts focus on offenders with felonies. Judge Allred wants to expand that to include misdemeanors to attack drug addiction before it progresses so far.