Three Tazewell County Drug Court participants recently demonstrated their commitment to living clean and sober lives by completing all of the program’s requirements.
Tazewell County Presiding Judge Michael Risinger honored Benjamin Baechler of Bartonville, Corey Cantor of Pekin and Dwayne Schwarzentruber of Pekin in a graduation ceremony held Wednesday at the Tazewell County Courthouse.
“The program is aimed at getting people out of the criminal justice system,” said Risinger. “That’s not just short-term. We want them to have a lifetime of staying out of the criminal justice system.”
The county applies a variety of resources toward a successful drug court program, said Risinger. Participants receive treatment and counseling, attend group meetings as well as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, report regularly to court officials and probation officers, and submit to random drug testing.
“Drug court is really intensive probation aimed at a particular problem of drug or alcohol addiction,” Risinger said.
Last year, Cantor was incarcerated in the Tazewell County Jail when he heard about drug court from a friend who had unsuccessfully participated in the program. Twenty months later, Cantor has acquired his own residence, a car and full-time employment.
“It’s an excellent program,” Cantor said. “I needed structure, a positive environment and people I could lean on. I got all of that, and now I’m a productive member of society.”
Last March, Schwarzentruber was also a resident of the Tazewell County Jail and needed help fighting his alcohol addiction. While complying with drug court requirements, he has been working at a full-time job since last December, has found a place to live, and is working on regaining a driver’s license he last held in 2010.
“The program has helped me in every way imaginable,” he said. “It has helped me find myself again. It has given me direction that I needed. It has helped me learn to deal with situations where I would abuse (alcohol).”
The Tazewell County Drug Court program was established in 2011. Thirty participants have completed its rigorous requirements to have convictions erased or sentences reduced to time already spent in custody. To qualify for the program, a candidate must have been charged with a felony, must have an addiction, and must live in Tazewell County, unless a special exception is made. Before being accepted into drug court, candidates are carefully screened to determine whether they have addictions. Drug court is an effective tool in reducing crime through rehabilitation, said Risinger.
“We’re working with Bradley University in developing our statistics,” he said. “But based on an unofficial review of our program, the recidivist rate with our graduates is better than it is in the general population.”