FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — On Wednesday, there was a celebration in Forsyth District Court, not something you usually see in a courtroom.
But on this day, three young people were the first graduates of Forsyth County’s juvenile drug-treatment court.
“This is something to celebrate for our court system,” Forsyth District Judge Denise Hartsfield said during a graduation ceremony that ended with the playing of Pharrell Williams’ infectious hit song, “Happy.”
Juanita Campbell’s grandson, Krishard Watson, 14, was one of the three graduates. Campbell told those gathered that she was grateful for Hartsfield and everyone else involved with the drug-treatment court who helped get Krishard to this day.
“I thank God for this program because I don’t want to give him to the streets,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to bury him. I don’t want him to spend 30 years in prison.”
That’s the goal of the program, according to supporters of the drug-treatment court. They want participants to have a chance at a better life.
The juvenile drug-treatment court started in January 2013 and is geared toward nonviolent youths ages 12 to 16 who have substance abuse problems and have been sentenced to probation in juvenile court. The court was made possible through a $1.23 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal money comes to Forsyth County through the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency.
CenterPoint Human Services, which oversees behavior-health services, administers the grant, and Insight Human Services, a division of Partnership for a Drug Free NC Inc., has a contract with CenterPoint to oversee the court. Hartsfield presides over the court.
In addition to Watson, Tamayia Wilson and Marcus Montgomery also graduated from the program Wednesday.
Mark Kinney, the coordinator for the juvenile drug-treatment court for Insight, said 22 teens are currently in the program, and a total of 36 teens have participated. Some teens stopped participating because they moved away, their probation expired or they transferred to a youth detention center, Kinney said.
Hartsfield is among a team that also includes juvenile court counselors and lawyers that work with the teens. Eric Ellison, a Winston-Salem lawyer, represents the teens who go through the program.
The court also works with the national Reclaiming Futures program, which started a local initiative in 2008.
Jemi Sneed, the project director for the local Reclaiming Futures, said all participants are assessed to determine what type of substance abuse and other treatment they need. Once they are assessed, they are directed to the most appropriate treatment, Sneed said.
Participants are required to remain in school and perform 25 hours of community service. They also are subject to random drug testing.
It typically takes nine to 15 months for a teenager to graduate from the program.
Kinney said the grant mandates that officials track the progress of each participant. Every 90 days, court officials evaluate the participants’ school attendance and performance, home environment and mental and health issues. Kinney said they also check to see if participants have gotten into any more trouble.
“It’s a very thorough assessment,” he said.
Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, urged the graduates Wednesday to dream big dreams and reach out to the adults who have helped them in juvenile drug treatment court and their families when they need them. She even told them to call her if they need guidance.
“Our youth is our future,” she said. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King once said that our lives began to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. I’m glad you weren’t silent and I’m glad that we’re not dying.”