Pubdate: Fri, 17 Mar 2000
Source: Journal Gazette (IN)
Address: 600 W. Main Street, Ft. Wayne, IN. 46802
Author: Larry Hayes


Allen Superior Courtroom No. 3 fills early that Friday.

The newly remodeled room is magnificent. Being there gives one the feeling
of solemnity.

But on this day no jury is being impaneled. No offenders in orange jump
suits file into the prisoner's box. No hollow-eyed youth is being tried for
murder. No prostitute is to be sentenced.

It is graduation day for drug court.

The war on drugs has largely failed. Yet neither society nor the politicians
seem ready to run up the white flag and decriminalize drug use.

But drug court is a real success story -- one of the few in this nutty
social experiment in which we lock up people who suffer an addiction and
throw away the key.

This day there are 16 graduates. They, their friends and families have come
to celebrate. Because sticking with Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger's tough
program for months on end takes moral courage.

It's something to cheer.

Scheibenberger, a bear of a man, balding, with a generous gray moustache,
speaks a few words, though not from behind the bench. On this day, he won't
threaten to return the drug offender to jail for missing a urine test or a
court appearance.

On this day, he is the proud schoolmaster whose students have passed the
test with flying colors.

He knows them all, their charges, their history, their problems. He's
brought them before him each week to get a progress report.

"Hi, Bob. I'm going to miss him," he ad libs to one graduate who has given
the judge the high sign as the ceremony was getting under way.

Linda Jackson, the WKJG-TV anchor, who serves on the drug court advisory
board, steps forward to congratulate those being honored. She relates a
moving story of her twin brother, who died in his teens in an auto accident
after he hitched a ride from a friend who had been drinking.

Sporting a pink blazer, Jackson speaks from the heart to the graduates about
the "permanent turmoil in your life" that substance abuse can cause.

As she talks, one arresting officer smiled kindly at the man sitting next to
him, an offender he had once collared but now was drug free.

Passing out the diplomas, Scheibenberger has a personal word for each

"Sharon was a hard cookie to know," he joked.

"I want you to know that Diana's baby was born drug free."

"Here comes Chris, walking tall."

"Damon, you've even got a tie on today."

"We took a chance on you, Bob, and it paid off," the judge said to a
middle-age man with long hair and a huge smile on his face.

A handshake and occasionally a hug accompanies the presentation of the

Finally, Albert steps forward to speak. His life was changed, he declares.
His goal in life now is to be a drug and alcohol counselor, and he'll soon
start classes.

Since its inception three years ago, drug court has graduated nearly 70
former drug addicts. Not one has been arrested on drug charges. Each one has
stayed out of trouble.

The secret of drug court's success is really no secret. What Scheibenberger
has done is to follow to the letter and spirit a national model in which a
person addicted to drugs gets the therapy, the motivation, often a job and
the emotional support to kick the habit for good.

Graduates, once regarded a threat to public safety, now hold jobs and pay
taxes, all to the public good. It's one of the very few things that's made
any sense in the drug war. It's this legal truce called drug court.
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