Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jun 2007
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2007 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Barbara Ramirez
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Charges Are Dismissed If Program Completed

Mario Rodriguez's life was going downhill in a hurry until he joined a
support group aimed at helping people whose addictions had become
stronger than their will.

By 1998, the 44-year-old Premont resident had been arrested four times
for driving while intoxicated.

He reached the end of the road in March 2006, when he received another

This time, Rodriguez's probation officer introduced him to the Brooks
and Jim Wells County 79th Judicial District Drug and Alcohol Diversion
Court Program, which was started by a $65,000 grant from the
governor's office. The county has applied each year for the grant and
relies on the money to provide counseling, training and equipment,
said Dalia Garcia, project director for the drug and alcohol court.

Through individual and group counseling, those placed in the program
participate in a strict treatment plan that includes random drug
testing, curfews and attendance of biweekly treatment sessions.
Average completion of the program is 12 to 16 weeks, and at the end
charges are dismissed.

"The most rewarding thing is to see people realize how the drug court
empowers them, allowing them to recognize that they can actually be in
control of their lives," said Oscar Cortez, program

It took Rodriguez more than a decade to realize he is responsible for
his choices.

In 1990, while Rodriguez was living in Port Lavaca, he lost a job with
a water treatment plant. He held the job about 10 years and lost it
because of his alcohol and marijuana addiction.

Rodriguez said he drank and used drugs to drown the stresses of life.
He was a young father and worked hard to provide for his child,
Rodriguez said.

Life had become too routine and mundane, he said.

Much of Rodriguez's life now consists of mentoring

Although Rodriguez graduated from the program in December, he
continues to attend group sessions to share his success story. He
attends Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous three times a
week. In 1998, he started his own plumbing business.

"I'm a firm believer in the saying that God looks over fools and
drunks," Rodriguez said. "I could have killed somebody or myself, but
I didn't. I'm still here."

Rodriguez stays in the treatment programs to encourage others and for
positive influence, he said, adding that alcoholism is a disease that
never goes away.

Since its existence, the court has graduated 39 people, Cortez said.
The number of participants varies. Currently, there are 47 active
participants in Brooks and Jim Wells counties. A total of 37 people
have either dropped out of the program or were non-compliant, Cortez

Judge Sandra Watts, 117th District Judge for Nueces County, commended
the smaller counties for taking initiative to better their

On March 8, Watts was honored by the White House Office of National
Drug and Control Policy for her efforts in saving the lives of drug
addicts in Nueces County.

Her Divert Court, which celebrated its three-year anniversary in
March, is one of the most successful in keeping addicts off drugs,
officials with the White House Office of National Drug and Control
Policy said. Since its inception, the program in March had reached
more than 200 defendants.

"It is one of most rewarding things that I do because I see lives
change," Watts said Friday while at a National Association of Drug
Court Professionals conference in Washington. "Lives that have been on
a self destructing path, and all of a sudden they become

In 2001, legislators mandated drug courts for counties with
populations of 500,000 or more, Watts said. Legislators have not yet
mandated such courts for counties the size of Brooks and Jim Wells.

"You're talking about counties that have never been mandated by
legislation, but that have a vision to make a difference," Watts said.
"That's commendable."
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