It’s Time to Graduate

Man shaking hands with a drug treatment court graduateRemember the music from the early 2000s? And how endless debates about which boy band was the best or who was a better performer between Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera filled our ears. Then, there were many one-hit wonders like Vitamin C who released Graduation (Friends Forever). Below is an excerpt from the lyrics:

“As we go on/We remember/All the times we/Had together/And as our lives change/Come whatever/We will still be/Friends forever.”

This song was played at many commencements, ranging from kindergarten to college, and I imagine at treatment court graduations, too.

Once treatment court participants complete the various phase requirements for their program, they are eligible for graduation. In addition to phase requirements, some treatment courts have specific conditions for commencement eligibility. The Accountability Court in Georgia gives a prime example of such commencement obligations. Several of the requirements for participants who are part of the Accountability Court in Georgia are: writing a letter to the judge discussing their progress in the program and completing 24 hours of community service. Participants must also create a recovery plan, submit a certification of having a GED or high school diploma, and be alcohol/drug-free for 150 consecutive days. Once these fulfillments are met, it’s time to graduate.

At a typical treatment court graduation, family, friends, and staff gather to celebrate the success of participants. Often, there is a speaker to impart wisdom to graduates, completion certificates are handed out, and graduates have a chance to reflect on their experiences in the program along with discussing their future endeavors. In the documentary Second Chances: One Year in Ohio’s Drug Courts, the filmmakers highlight the graduation ceremony at a treatment court in Hocking County. Below is quote from a graduate:

“I don’t think I can say thank you enough to each of you for what you have helped me to achieve. I hope you can continue to change peoples’ lives in the way you have changed mine. To everyone just starting out in the program, just stick with it. There isn’t a better program or group of people to help you through this.”

This treatment court participant realized the positive influence the program had on his life, and he’s grateful for the life-changing opportunity. The graduation is not the end, but rather it’s the start of a new chapter for participants. They can take all the knowledge they’ve learned over the several months while in the program and implement it to sustain their recovery.

Here at the Justice Programs Office, we, too, are participating in a graduation of sorts. After managing the National Drug Court Resource Center for the past three years, we’ll be wrapping up this project in the next few weeks. Over the years, we’ve witnessed the positive impacts treatment courts have had on participants and enjoyed working with treatment professionals across the US. We will continue to work with treatment courts in new capacities. So, it’s safe to say, we’ll be friends forever with all the folks we’ve encountered on our treatment court journey.