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Drug court assists parents

SELMA — They’re not criminals; they just want their children back. So they go to Family Drug Court.

“The only people who come to drug court are mommas and daddies who have lost custody due to substance abuse,” said District Judge Robert Armstrong. “The whole point of the program is to deal with their neglect and become a better parent.”

The program began last October after Armstrong received a grant the month before.

The program holds participants accountable for living a sober and drug-free life. Once parents demonstrate they can survive without inebriation, they may earn back custody rights to their children

It’s a three-prong program.

Phase one lasts three months and is the most rigorous, during which the participants come to grips with their addictions and the consequences.

“It’s really intensive in the beginning, and that’s by design,” said Greg Dreveny, family dependency drug court coordinator.

Phase two is three months long and requires a court session every other week, group sessions less frequently and clean drug screens.

Phase three is six months. It requires a court session once a month and less-frequent group sessions and clean drug screens.

The plan is for participants to graduate a year after enrollment. But the responsibilities don’t end there. Graduation allows participants to become a part of an alumni association, which means they’ll mentor new participants and speak during drug court sessions.

In addition to the group design, each person in the court has an individualized plan drawn up during an intake session at the beginning of the process. There are random drug screens, required group therapy sessions at Cahaba Cares and G.E.D. or college classes.

The program is not for the faint-hearted.

Participants must take accountability for all their actions at weekly drug court sessions held at 7:30 a.m. during the week. These are not traditional court sessions.

Armstrong calls each person up to the stand, one at a time, and reads their overall reviews for the week, then doles out rewards or sanctions based on the results.

Some of the sanctions for drug use, absence from group sessions or violation of other rules could result in jail time.

Everyone listens as Armstrong speaks to the person on the stand. This is intentional, said the judge, to have each individual hold others accountable.

So far, the more than 12 enrolled in this program have shown progress. Graduation is within their grasp.

“Each person in it has had a complete turnaround,” Armstrong said. “It has been incredibly successful. Not only are you helping a family, you’re helping the whole community.”