Local News

September 15, 2013

Drug court graduates credit program with saving lives

Two-and-a-half years ago, Mary Jane Garner was standing before Superior Court Judge Jack Partain, unkempt, distraught, lacking confidence in herself and caught in a pattern of drug abuse she couldn’t seem to find her way out of.

Last week, she stood with the judge at the Whitfield County Courthouse — professionally dressed, put-together and smiling as dozens of supporters gathered to recognize her achievements.

“She has come light years in this program,” Partain said.

The program is the Conasauga Drug Court, and Garner was among five individuals who graduated from it last week. The roughly two-year program is an alternative to prison for many people who have committed drug-related felonies and want a chance at fighting their substance addiction and making changes to ensure they don’t revert to their old lifestyles.

There are five phases in the program, beginning with participants being under tight supervision and going to class five days a week and ending with a transition to a normal adult life in which they’re expected to have jobs, provide for themselves and any dependent family members and give back to the community. Drug court participants have to abide by certain accountability rules — including showing up to class and completing related requirements — or face sanctions up to going to prison for their original offenses.

Not everyone finishes. Of the 178 who have finished since the Conasauga Drug Court started in 2002, only about 8 percent go back to re-offending after a year, said program coordinator Michelle Pirkle.

Pirkle said the physical damage done to a drug-user’s body don’t go away overnight. Many users, she said, need a year of sobriety before their brains are healed well enough that they can think clearly enough to want to change their lives. The strict accountability and mentor program, in which someone in a more advanced phase of drug court helps a newbie, helped many would-be graduates make it to the last phase, said Pirkle and several graduates. One graduate said he was only trying to get out of going to jail when he agreed to enter drug court, but he now realizes how much the move has helped him change his life.

Partain recognized the graduates in the Juror Assembly Room at the courthouse as dozens of family members, friends, supporters, law enforcement officers and others who work in the justice system gathered to congratulate them. The graduates were identified in a published program only by their first names. Some of them asked to remain anonymous because of concern for how publicity would affect them as they rebuild their lives. Others agreed to provide their full names to more fully share their success stories.

Text Only
Local News
  • Little library 1 mlh.jpg Little Libraries, big goal

    Whitfield County just received a new library.
    And better yet, 26 more are on the way to the region.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Picture 3.jpg Rock solid

    A great number of things have come and gone since 1974.
    One that hasn’t: a small Dalton school founded by parents wanting a unique learning environment for their children.

    July 27, 2014 2 Photos

  • Vann House Day '14 6 mlh.jpg History comes alive at Vann House

    SPRING PLACE — In the early 1800s, the 1,000-acre plantation belonging to Cherokee Indian leader James Vann was a bustling place.

    July 26, 2014 5 Photos

  • Local officials agree with Deal

    Regarding news last week that approximately 30 unaccompanied minors from Central America, who had crossed the southern border into the United States, were sent without warning to Dalton last year and enrolled in Dalton Public Schools, Republican politicians representing portions of Murray and Whitfield Counties agree — state and local school officials deserved to know in advance, they say.

    July 26, 2014

  • Former chamber location 2 mlh.jpg Plan could cut flooding, stormwater damage in Dalton

    On a recent day, McClellan Creek flowed gently through Harlan Godfrey Civitan Park. But some park goers who live near the area say that even a mild rain can turn the creek into a torrent that eats away at their property.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Civil War anniversary: The Battle of Crow Valley, May 9-12, 1864

    The Atlanta Campaign began during the first two weeks of May 1864 in and around Dalton. Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s strategy was to target two of his armies, about 80,000 men, against Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Dalton. Then, while Johnston’s attention was diverted by these forces, he would secretly send his third army, about 25,000 troops under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, in a flanking movement to the southwest through Snake Creek Gap. Sherman’s goal was to break Johnston’s railroad supply line some 15 miles south at Resaca and trap Johnston’s Confederates in Dalton.

    July 26, 2014

  • New church being  built mlh.jpg Church construction continues

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Avans.jpg Three arrested in arson plot to claim insurance money

    Three people have been arrested for their role in a fire at a Chatsworth home as part of an insurance scam to collect money, officials said.

    July 25, 2014 3 Photos

  • Investigation into MFG chemical accident continues

    An investigation is still ongoing after a MFG Chemical employee was injured earlier this month at a plant on Kimberly Park Drive.

    July 25, 2014

  • Judge sets $100,000 bond for Cohutta man accused of incest, molestation

    A Cohutta man charged with incest, aggravated sodomy and child molestation was granted a $100,000 bond over the prosecutor’s objection on Friday.

    July 25, 2014