TULSA - Applause may seem out of place in a courtroom, but it's pretty common when Tulsa County Special Judge Dawn Moody is at the bench.
Moody oversees the county's drug court program, which provides an highly structured treatment alternative to jail time for about 600 addicts.
During the hearings, each drug court participant must stand before Moody, where she gives an update on any milestones or setbacks that the participant had during the previous week. If it's warranted, she congratulates the participants and asks the crowd to applaud them.
Moody said the encouragement and applause are necessary to keep the participants motivated, but the program comes with a lot of accountability to keep them on the right track.
"Unfortunately, there is a misunderstanding that drug court is soft on crime," Moody said. "It is much more difficult to make it through the program, the drug court program, successfully than it would be to go and discharge your sentence in prison."
In addition to weekly court hearings, Moody said the drug court participants must also meet with their treatment providers for individual and group sessions. They also have to take random drug tests several times throughout the week.
"Drug court is not soft on crime. If anything, it's hard on crime, hard on drug use," Moody said. "Our goal is to put these individuals back in the community as sober, productive citizens."
The accountability is especially helpful to Jacob Regouby, who pleaded into the program in April 2015. He claims he turned to crime to feed his heroin addiction, a dependency that grew after he started taking prescription drugs as a teenager.
"(Drug court) changed my life," Regouby said. "It's going to keep felonies off my record. It's helped me heal relationships with my family and everyone around me, and I'm slowly becoming a productive member of society."
The drug court is enrolling more and more participants lately struggling with addiction to opioids, or prescription painkillers, according to Moody. She said about half the participants are there now for prescription drug abuse, which often leads to use of heroin.
"If you interview any of the police officers or the treatment specialists, they will probably tell you they're seeing more heroin use," Moody said, "because as doctors are learning more about the fact that individuals can become addicted to prescription drugs and hopefully prescribing less prescription drugs, individuals are turning to whatever they can get their hands on. Unfortunately, that seems to be heroin at this time."
Two recent drug court graduates, Erin Lagan and Jonathan Kroblin, said they ended up in the program because of their heroin addictions.
"When you have an addiction like that," Lagan said, "no matter how hard you want to get clean, you just can't unless you have help. That's what drug court provided me with was the help I needed to get clean and then the support I needed to stay clean."
"Most all your problems, my problems have gone away, and they were all created by that one epidemic (of heroin)," Kroblin said. "Without that in my life, it is easy to hold down a job. Without that in my life, it is easy for me to maintain healthy relationships as long as I am not poisoning my life."
Lagan said she regained custody of her son during her stint in drug time, and she now has a full-time job, which is a requirement for participants to graduate from drug court.
Regouby is set to graduate from drug court in January. He has advice for others battling addiction.
"It wasn't my choice, but I am at a spot now that I can look back and know that (drug court) saved my life," Regouby said. "If you are struggling, get help or accept help however it comes. If drug court becomes an option, take it. It will save your life."
The state is including drug courts in its push for criminal justice reform. In April Governor Mary Fallin signed four bills, including HB2753. It establishes means for broader use of drug courts and community sentencing.
"These measures will preserve public safety while helping control prison costs and reduce incarceration rates," Fallin said in a statement after signing the reform bills. "Many of our inmates are non-violent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems who need treatment.
This will pave the way for a wider use of drug courts and community sentencing as well as give judges and district attorneys more discretion in sentencing."
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