On Oct. 26 and 27, 51 nonviolent felony offenders, including five veterans, lived out the second chance they received to live as productive citizens, instead of facing the prison sentence that was awaiting them months ago.
The Community Service Council’s (CSC) Tulsa County COURTS Program is the largest alternative courts program in Oklahoma, operating as a court-supervised therapeutic alternative to incarceration for offenders charged with non-violent crimes who are in need of treatment for substance abuse and/or mental illness.
CSC’s therapeutic courts include Drug Court, DUI Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Treatment Court. All require participants to make regular court appearances, keep treatment appointments and submit to random drug testing. Graduates from the program also have opportunities to further their education, return to the workforce, or advance their career during their time in the program.
On Friday, Oct. 27, graduates from Drug, DUI and Veterans Treatment Courts walked across the stage at the OSU-Tulsa Auditorium to receive their graduation diplomas in honor of their discipline, hard work and dedication to the rigorous 18-month program, that, in some cases, takes participants longer to complete.
Mental Health graduates partook in a separate ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 26 at Aaronson Auditorium at the Tulsa City-County Library.
“These graduations are a meaningful part of the alternative courts process where we see firsthand how the program restores lives,” said Tammy Westcott, Community Service Council’s Incarceration Reduction Division Director. “We also know that for the individuals who graduate, we’ve saved at least $19,000 per year per offender that it would have cost sending them to prison.”
Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation. Statistics show that 95% of people in prison will be released, but only one in three will be arrest-free three years later, creating a cycle of incarceration that costs the state in both dollars and community safety.
To confront this issue, more than 1,000 participants have graduated from the Tulsa County COURTS program to date, thus saving the state $19 million that it would have cost to incarcerate people who needed treatment instead.
In October, 51 more graduates were added to that number, having been given the option of therapy instead of incarceration and thereby addressing addictions, reuniting families, preventing repeat offenses, and saving public funds that would have gone to the prison system.
As graduates received their certificates of completion from the presiding judge and CSC program coordinator, their mug shot was shown on the screen behind them, side by side with a recent photo, an often emotional display of the tremendous transformation many participants undergo to get the help they need to live a clean and healthy life.
As graduates exited the stage, their progress and success was celebrated with exuberant cheers and rounds of applause from families, judges, mentors, therapists, probation officers, employers, case managers, former graduates, and their peers who journeyed this path together toward this momentous occasion of transformation.