Budget cuts have limited the number of youths who can participate in juvenile drug court in the Tri-Cities, but that has not stopped court officials from celebrating the national program.
A special ceremony is set for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Court in Kennewick in celebration of National Drug Court Month, said David Wheeler, juvenile court probation manager.
Juvenile drug court was started in Benton and Franklin counties in 2003, and in that time, 73 youths have graduated from the intensive program that includes comprehensive drug treatment, close supervision and full accountability, he said.
"As a judicial officer, I witness the devastating impacts of drug and alcohol abuse on a daily basis from the bench," said Court Commissioner Lonna Malone, who has been the juvenile drug court judge since its inception.
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Malone said almost 60 percent of youths in juvenile court have some type of drug, alcohol or abuse issue, or a combination of the three.
"Juvenile drug court provides an avenue for our local youth to learn the tools necessary to stay clean and sober, to reconnect with their families, and to find personal success," Malone said. "This is by far the most rewarding program I have ever been involved with in my professional career."
This year, Benton County is covering the cost for 12 juveniles to participate in juvenile drug court. Franklin County did not provide any funding for juvenile drug court in its 2011 budget, Wheeler said.
Shrinking budgets also threatened to affect juvenile drug court last year, but ShareFest and Circle of Hope provided funding to keep it alive.
Officials say, however, that drug courts are a proven budget solution that saves lives and money.
Juvenile drug courts help reduce crime and create sobriety for youth, while also helping them get back on the right track, Wheeler said.
Nationally, 75 percent of people who complete drug court are not re-arrested, officials said. Drug courts also save up to $13,000 for every individual they serve and return as much as $27 for every $1 invested.
"Drug courts are a proven budget solution and must be expanded," said West Huddleston, CEO of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.