"I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to go through this," Charles Niehaus said as he became the sixth graduate from Montgomery County's Drug Court on Friday, June 28.
Niehaus was honored for completing the rigorous program at a ceremony held at Lincoln Land Community College in Litchfield.
Montgomery County Drug Court is a 24 to 30 month, four-phase program that is given as an alternative option to prison for select offenders who meet the program's rigorous qualifications.
Montgomery County was one of the earliest counties in Illinois to recognize the benefits of the rehabilitation program and was officially awarded Drug Court certification from the Illinois Office of Administrative Courts earlier this month.
Drug Court consists of an appointed team which includes Drug Court Judge Alan Lolie, Assistant State's Attorney Wes Poggenpohl, Defense Attorney John Evans, Drug Court Probation Officer Cheryl Adams and Montgomery County Health Department Substance Abuse Counselor Amber Mifflin, as well as many more behind the scenes players.
Friday's ceremony was presided over by Judge Doug Jarman, former Drug Court Judge who stepped in when his predecessor was stuck in court. Judge Jim Roberts has been appointed to precede Judge Lolie as the program enters into its sixth rotation.
Each member of the court spoke at Niehaus' ceremony. Montgomery County Health Department Substance Abuse Program Coordinator Jill Wright and the probation department's Chief Managing Officer Banee Ulrici also spoke at the commencement ceremony.
The Drug Court program aims to rehabilitate habitual substance abuse-related offenders and is considered a much more difficult path to take than prison. Niehaus was commended for his focus in not only completing the program but making the difficult steps needed to change the course of his life.
"This is not an easy program," said Probation Officer Adams. "This is the hard way, the more difficult path. To successfully graduate from this program each of our participants must choose and commit to a different way of life. A way of life that many have not lived in a very long time, if ever. That is a very hard and scary change and Charles is to be commended."
Throughout his time in the program, Niehaus attended 46 individual therapy sessions, 53 group therapy sessions, over 231 substance abuse support group meetings (three or more meetings per week), 139 drug tests both scheduled and random, and 41 drug court appearances. He was also required to attain and keep a full time job, pay off all accrued court fees and obtain a sobriety sponsor, all on top of rebuilding his life and beginning to mend relationships that have been broken by his addiction.
"When I was given this option the worst consequences I was facing was not jail time, it was losing my family."
As part of the ceremony, Niehaus presented roses to those who have fought alongside him throughout his ardorous journey to sobriety. He chose to recognize his wife, Tamara Niehaus; mother, Nancy Niehaus and Adams.
Drug Court, which was developed in Miami, FL, more than 30 years ago, aims to stop the criminal behavior of its participants through addressing the root cause - addiction. Statistically, addicts who are given prison time have a recidivism rate of around 75 percent and cost the state around $25,000 per year, per inmate. Drug courts across the nation, including Montgomery County Drug Court, are proving that this stringent accountability progam has a much better long-term success rate at not only ending criminal behavior but improving the lives of addicts and all those around them.
Montgomery County Drug Court operates under a sanctions and rewards basis. Sanctions are given for violations of the program's strict requirements. They include things from additional counseling sessions and drug testing, to community service and even jail time. The sanctions are given swiflty as are the rewards, which include permission for out of town and state travel, court recognition and tangible rewards. Niehaus impressively completed the program with only two sanctions, which he was recognized for by State Attorney Bryant Hitchings.
"I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to go through this program," said Niehaus tearfully. "I know that prison would have been the easier choice but I also know that it would not have worked. I was in prison for almost seven years and was back to getting high within six months of being released. Prison does not work but this does. I wish that all addicts had the chance to go through Drug Court. I want to thank every single person in this room for helping me get to this point. I feel like I have been given a new life and I cannot thank you enough."