When Alex walks onstage next month at the Toyota Center to receive a diploma from Hanford High School, it will be his second graduation in 24 hours.
While thousands of students around the Mid-Columbia will earn their high school diplomas in the coming weeks, Alex is on track to graduate from juvenile drug court. On Thursday, the program also graduated one female teen.
Alex got caught with more than 2 ounces of marijuana in his car on school property toward the end of his junior year. Drug court officials asked that his real name not be used because he’s a juvenile.
“I got my rights read to me in the principal’s office,” the 19-year-old said.
Along with a lengthy suspension from school, the teen faced a felony charge for possession of a controlled substance. Alex says he was at a crossroads in his life — he could put his fate in the hands of the court or fight to keep the felony charge off his record.
Teens accepted into drug court can have their charges dropped if they complete the four-phase program, which usually takes between a year and 18 months. Failure to complete it can result in immediate prosecution.
The program is selective, and juveniles who have committed violent, serious felony or sexual offenses are not eligible. Teens in the program are charged with a wide range of offenses such as minor in consumption of alcohol, theft or drug possession.
They must be diagnosed with a drug or alcohol problem and show a willingness to participate in treatment. Parents also must be willing to participate and be supportive of the program.
There are 16 teens from Benton and Franklin counties enrolled and others on a waiting list, said Troy Grall, probation counselor. Grall and a team consisting of a judge, prosecutor, attorney and another probation counselor select those who are admitted.
For some, the rules of drug court simply aren’t worth the chance to have a charge erased.
Participants must remain sober and perform community service. There are routine urine tests, required group activities, court dates and meetings with probation counselors.
A majority of those admitted to the program since it started in 2002 have not finished, Grall said. There have been 87 graduates, compared with 109 teens who did not complete the program.
“In drug court, you have to earn it,” Grall said. “If you’re not going to be a productive citizen in our community, you will not succeed in the program.”
The decision for Alex to apply to the program was not an easy one, he said. He thought about moving out on his own, resolving his court case and being free to live life without the burden of weekly drug tests.
Like many kids his age, Alex regularly smoked marijuana and drank alcohol to have fun, he said. The teen had some minor brushes with the law before but nothing as serious as the felony hanging over his head.
Alex said his substance abuse had not spiraled out of control, but he made the choice to enter an inpatient treatment program and take on the challenge of drug court.
Over the next year, Alex worked with Grall and his team to overcome the hurdles of drug court. The teen says he hasn’t used since April of last year.
Alex is set to graduate from the program June 4 after he submits a letter detailing what drug court has taught him.
“It’s been hard, but it’s definitely been good,” he said.
Grall describes Alex as a model participant who exceeded expectations and should have a bright future.
Alex has been accepted to a college in Colorado where he wants to major in geology and minor in biology.
But first he plans to celebrate his accomplishments over the past year with the back-to-back graduations.
“Those will be two big days,” Alex said.