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Juvenile Court to offer drug treatment program

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Clayton County Juvenile Court soon will offer a drug treatment program to repeat offenders whose delinquency can be attributed to addiction.

In cooperation with the Odyssey Family Counseling Center in College Park, and Center of Hope Church of God in Christ, in Riverdale, the Drug Court will be time intensive, family involved, and oriented toward the modification of behavior, according to Judge Tracy L. Graham.

"I see a lot of boys that come back, and back, and back," the juvenile judge said. "And they're not mean, but they're coming back. They're smoking a lot of marijuana."

Graham said marijuana use contributes to at least half of the cases of male juvenile offenders. Smoking marijuana lowers IQ, she said, is done in groups, and makes juveniles impulsive, and receptive to bad ideas.

"They start focusing on how to get high and get their next blunt," Graham said. "Because they're high and impulsive, they go and do things they wouldn't do if they were sober."

Graham said she began pursuing the idea of a juvenile drug court last summer, after seeing an Oprah Winfrey episode on how addiction is a disease, and ought to be treated as a disease, reading up on the scientific research and visiting some of the few juvenile Drug Courts in the state. To Graham, it looked like a better way to respond to the problem of "bright kids addicted to marijuana" who are racking up repeat felonies and headed toward a life in the criminal justice system.

With the support of Odyssey and Center of Hope, the juvenile court's program will begin March 18, without the support of any government funding.

In seven to 10 cases, Graham will assign the treatment program in lieu of detention. The treatment program will last between nine months and a year.

The participants will be required to show up to two group therapy sessions each week, as well as one night of family therapy and a session of Drug Court, each week. Once every other week, there will be individual therapy sessions.

Cautious about promising results, Graham said the program is pursuing "progress, not perfection." She hopes, though, that the treatment participants will respond to the outreach and see that they're being offered a real chance.

"I'm just hoping this is their 'rock bottom,' that they're tired of going to jail, they know we want to help them, that we care about them, and want to keep them out of the adult system. As a rule, they're not bad children, they're just making impulsive, kid-decisions that are bad."