Cook County alternative program helps people get clean from drugs, avoid criminal behavior

Now, other counties are looking to copy the program because of its success
CHICAGO (WLS) -- An alternative program is helping people get clean from drugs and avoid a return to criminal behavior.

Now, other counties are looking to copy the program because of its success.

Congratulations and tears of joy were seen in an unusual place Thursday -- a Cook County criminal courtroom.

Six people with drug charges graduate the Cook County Drug Court Program after 24 months of counseling, training, testing and support services.

The program aims to help them get clean, and Thursday, they had their charges dismissed.

"I no longer have to walk with my head down," said graduate Lillian Jackson. "Walk with my head up."

After decades of struggling with drug addiction, she landed in Judge Charles Burns' courtroom. Now, Jackson is living in a new place, working and got a full college scholarship.

"They say God puts people in your life for a reason and this was the reason -- for me to get clean and sober and start my new life," Jackson said.

Drug court is one of 20 problem-solving courts in Cook County. There is also veterans courts and mental health courts.

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However, these courts were recognized nationally and will become models for other jurisdictions.

Judge Burns said after seeing hundreds graduate, these alternatives reduce recidivism.

"This is a win-win for everyone," Judge Burns said.

Judge Burns has overseen Rehabilitative Alternative Probation Drug Court at the Leighton Courthouse since 2010.

"When you believe in them, they change their lives. That is so inspirational for all of us. It keeps us motivated and it keeps us giving the next person a chance because of the successes of our graduates," he added.

This year, a graduate alumni association was created to help the graduates stay on their paths. This graduate alumni association is also expected to be replicated in other areas.

"I want to give back and help somebody like somebody helped me," Jackson said.

As for Jackson, she said the only way she will return to a criminal courtroom is to possibly work there someday when she gets her degree in data science. She starts college in the fall.
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