The local juvenile drug court program in Los Lunas has been awarded enough money from the federal government to help maintain and continue the program for the next three years.
The program, which is set in the 13th Judicial District in Valencia County, was awarded $497,750 by the U.S. Department of Justice Drug Court Grant Program.
The local juvenile drug court began in February with no budget and has been manned by volunteers, said District Court Judge John Pope. Pope, who presides over drug court hearings, said the money will be used over a three-year period and will help pay for the services provided to the program.
“This sounds like a lot of money because we only have seven kids in the program now,” Pope said. “But this money is planned to work for 30 additional kids. We’ve always had the intent to expand the program, we just didn’t have the resources to do it until now. That’s how bad the drug problem is.”
The drug court program, which is an incentive intervention program to help kids get off drugs, is an alternative to prison or boys or girls schools. The program is composed of both an intense supervision schedule of juveniles convicted on drug charges and graduated sanctions of the young people.
Drug Court is in session every Friday in Pope’s courtroom as each juvenile’s case is reviewed for progress. Each youth in the program is subject weekly to a random urinalysis test, a surprise home visit and a progress report from their schools.
“They also have to participate in individual, family and group counseling,” Pope said. “It’s an incentive program. They have a book to do assignments they have to fill out every week.”
The judge said the assignments include essays about self-awareness into why drugs are harmful, what made them start using drugs in the first place and why they should stop.
The 18-month program is in the beginning stages of the incentive level, where the juveniles are always rewarded with applause if they do well. But, if they do break a rule of the program, they can face sanctions that include cleaning up the local landfill or spending time in the juvenile detention center.
“We’re going to try and do a little more of the community service-type sanctions here in Valencia County,” Pope said. “Our problem was that we have seven kids right now and didn’t have any money.”
Within the program, the juveniles participate in a five-grade system in which several steps must be successfully accomplished to proceed within each grade, Pope explained.
“We have to keep an eye on them all the time, and they have to understand that if they screw up, it’s going to cost them something,” Pope said. “They will have to start at the beginning of the grade and repeat the steps.”
In the past five months, Pope said, he has seen a positive response from the kids and expects most, if not all, to be off drugs at the end of the program.
“Teachers have said that the kids are much more respectful in class,” the judge said. “I can honestly say that we have one kid who has been clean for most of the program.”
With $150,000 a year dedicated to the program, the volunteers will have the funds to pay for much needed services. The budget will include money to pay for a public defender, counseling services, drug screenings and for a full-time compliance officer.
Upon completion of the program, the participants will have their records expunged, Pope said.
The drug court in Alamogordo was also awarded $157,139 from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Court Grant Program.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.