Drug court graduates look forward to a sober future

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URBANA--For more than 20 years, Victor Ratliff's addiction to crack cocaine had him in and out of courtrooms and prison. But it was a different kind of court that helped him get on the road to recovery.

"Drug court saved my life," said Ratliff.

After months of meetings and supervised treatments, Ratliff and six others graduated from Champaign County's Drug Court Monday, bringing the total number of people who've completed the program to 218.

"It's multiple convicted felons with long-term substance abuse, they are very high risk, high need people," said Champaign County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Ford. "But the research has shown that you get the biggest bang for your buck with this population if you can turn them around."

Incarceration costs around $24,000 a year per person, while drug court amounts to about $5,000 to fund therapies that focus on finding the root of their substance abuse.

"The justice system assisted me in helping me deal with my problem," said Ratliff. "Not just the law that I broke."

"It's not about getting a person sober," said Ford. "Because you can do that, or they can do that on their own. It's about getting them to change the way they behave, their behaviors in their life."

To graduate, participants must spend one full year sober, a major milestone for many of these reformed addicts.

"This is one of the best moments of my life," said Ratliff. "Like I've been reborn."

"Basically you just see people come alive," said Ford. "And from having nothing to having hope and everything else is just powerful."

To keep that hope alive, graduates are kept on probation, to guide them in the right direction.

"Stay on the path that I've been on," said Ratliff. "And the sky's the limit."

Because thanks to Drug Court, Ratliff is no longer bound by the limits of his addiction.

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