Pubdate: Mon, 05 Mar 2007
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Jaime Powell, Caller-Times


Judge Sandra Watts To Be Recognized By White House Office

Every Tuesday night for three years, District Judge Sandra Watts has
spent her free time playing mother and counselor to dozens of drug
addicts enrolled in her 3-year-old Divert Court, a job she calls one
of the most gratifying of her life.

On Thursday, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Chief
of Staff Stephen Katsurinis will be on hand to congratulate Watts on
the third anniversary of her program, which is one of the most
successful in the nation at keeping addicts off drugs.

Since its inception, the program has reached more than 200 defendants,
first-time offenders who have been caught with small amounts of drugs,
who avoid indictment and prosecution by agreeing to undergo rigorous
drug testing and addiction treatment.

Watts works with people from the probation department, treatment
counselors and lawyers to keep participants clean and out of jail.

The program is funded on a shoestring budget. The judge is a
volunteer. The bailiff works for comp time. Only the court-appointed
lawyer who represents the participants and four probation officers
provided by the state's Criminal Justice Division are paid.

Like a parent, Watts makes the addicts follow rules. She holds them
accountable and rewards them with small gifts for their successes. She
allows some mistakes. But if it becomes a pattern, the participant is
out of the program and back facing the regular judicial system.

Watts' brand of tough love boasts some of the best rehab rates in the
nation, with a success rate of 88 percent based on recidivism numbers,
compared with national averages of about 70 percent.

"The success witnessed here in Corpus Christi should serve as a
national model for existing and emerging drug courts throughout the
United States," Katsurinis said in a statement.

Watts said Friday that the program came about after local district
judges came up with the idea. She volunteered to start it.

"The reason drug courts are successful is because it combines the
power of the court with the treatment," Watts said. "And when they
have to come to court, the mandatory attendance at court is to ensure
the accountability. It's an intense program for a year where the
courts and their treatment providers know these people one on one." 
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