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Drug court continues to churn out graduates

Drug court continues to churn out graduates

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drug court graduation
Drug Court graduate Bobby Molina smiles at Elko District Judge Andrew Puccinelli Friday during the graduation ceremony.

ELKO - The Drug Court program is constantly evolving and improving, said Elko District Judge Andrew Puccinelli.

With around 60 people currently in the Elko Adult Drug Court program, there are, on average, two to three graduates every month, Puccinelli said. On Friday, another four participants graduated from the program.

"It's a celebration of four individuals and the work they've done," Puccinelli said. "We provided these folks graduating with the tools to remain sober and be good members of the community."

The event was not simply a celebration for the graduates, but a celebration of the program itself, as well as the collaborative efforts of various entities in the community that contribute to its success, Puccinelli said.

The point of the program is to break the cycle of addiction. Puccinelli said addiction is a brain-based disease. He said many in drug court commit nonviolent crimes, such as fraud, because of their addiction.

"The criminal justice system was breaking under the weight of those people going to prison," Puccinelli said in an interview prior to the graduation. "I saw the cycle of people coming and going through the system. Everyone sees it and it's important that we are trying to break that cycle of addiction and to create something where we put people back to work and lighten the load on the taxpayers and the budgetary crisis we are all suffering from."

He said treating individuals for addiction is no different than treating those with diabetes.

Bobby Molina was one graduate of the program Friday. Molina was celebrating 949 days clean and 573 days sober. He accepted his diploma in front of a courtroom full of family members, friends and past drug court graduates.

Graduate Alice Salinas, who is around 250 days methamphetamine free, more than 500 days marijuana free and more than 300 days spice free, gave a tearful thank you to all those who helped her break the cycle of addiction.

"I love you for helping me," she said to the people in the room.

Puccinelli said drug court programs are not only important locally, but nationwide.

Nationally, drug courts return to the community up to $27 for every $1 invested, according to a press release.

Puccinelli cited the example of one of Friday's graduates in terms of the money taxpayers save by treating those within the criminal justice system for their addictions. This particular graduate, who chose not to be named, was sentenced to prison on a theft conviction.

After serving 20 months, Puccinelli said he put in the graduate's judgment of conviction that the individual could be considered for the drug court program. The graduate applied and after two years successfully completed the program.

Because the individual was kept out of prison for additional time, Puccinelli said this saved the taxpayers about $60,000. At the same time the graduate was in the program, the person was employed and paying taxes.

Puccinelli said although there are those who deserve to go to prison, and need to go at times, in terms of sentencing, those in the business recognize many crimes such as credit card fraud and forgery relate to the illness of addiction.

Elko County's Adult Drug Court was started in March 2005. The Juvenile Drug Court was started in January 2007.

Since inception, the Adult Drug Court Program has graduated 90 participants.

Overall, 72 percent of the people admitted to the programs complete them and graduate. In the Adult Drug Court program Puccinelli said approximately 90 percent of graduates stay clean, sober and out of trouble.

"When those demons and that addict-brain come back to haunt you, you have the tools to stay away from it," Puccinelli said to the graduates.

As for the future of the program, Puccinelli said they are working to increase the level of psychiatric treatment available.

He said there are participants in the drug court in need of counseling, as well as prescriptions to help them work through depression or other mental illnesses.

"We need someone with prescription authority because sometimes they need that to get through some of the rough patches. You also find a lot of these people have concurring psychological problems," Puccinelli said.

The court is also working on obtaining seed money through grants for the implementation of a Family Drug Court. It will be for families in crisis, whose children are in the welfare system.

"We treated a few people who had children taken away, but they are also in the criminal justice system," Puccinelli said. "But, I'm not a fan of mixing the two."

He said he hopes this program will begin in the next year, should the grants be awarded.

Nevada is home to 46 drug/treatment courts. These programs are meant to keep the roads safe from drunk drivers, intervene before youths embark on a debilitating life of drug abuse and crime, and give parents the tools they need to stay clean and maintain custody of their children.

May is National Drug Court Month and is meant to celebrate these economic and societal benefits of the program.


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