Transformational Stories from March Drug Court Graduation

Screenshot from the March 9, 2022 King County Drug Court graduation ceremony

At today’s King County Drug Diversion Court graduation ceremony, we had the opportunity to celebrate the most recent graduate and hear moving updates from multiple Drug Court alumni (who graduated from 2016–2022) who spoke about their transformational journeys to recovery. Several of those alumni have not only been sober for many years now, but they have gone on to seek professional roles where they help other people experiencing substance use disorder.

“This has been a life changing choice,” said today’s graduate, who was in Drug Court for two and a half years. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired … this is the first time I have decided to quit.”

“I came to Drug Court broken, homeless and completely alienated from my family. On the day that I got arrested, the jail staff told me I was pregnant,” said another Drug Court alumni, spoke about their experience going from being a gymnast of 15 years to finding themselves addicted to substances and ultimately incarcerated. “My son saved my life, and Drug Court gave me my life back…I have this big beautiful life today — I have a driver’s license… I get to be a sober, self-sufficient mother.”

“Drug Court probably saved my life…I’m very grateful,” said one alumni, who has been sober for seven years. “Today life is good, I see my daughter, my granddaughter, and I’m active in my community.”

Drug Diversion Court is one option for people struggling with drug addiction in King County.

This program, started in 1994 for by the late Norm Maleng, is something that is separate from holding felony-level drug dealers accountable in our charged criminal cases of significant fentanyl, meth and heroin dealing, for example. Each case is reviewed individually, and participants who do not complete the months-long Drug Court program go back to traditional prosecution.

Studies show that King County Drug Court reduces recidivism, drug use, jail bookings and more. The program has five-phase program, and is a minimum of 10 months, though the average graduate is part of the program for 16 months. As a result, there’s some variation in the number of people who graduate each month as it’s based on individual progress rather than any set deadline.

Drug Court offers individuals charged with felony drug crimes — and property crimes motivated by addiction — the opportunity for substance use disorder and mental health treatment, access to other services such as housing, transportation and job skills training, and an opportunity for felony dismissal. Eligible defendants can elect to participate in the program or proceed with traditional court processing.

King County Drug Diversion Court was started in August 1994, by the late Norm Maleng and then King County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Martinez. At the time of its founding, King County’s Drug Court was the twelfth drug court in the country. Currently, there are drug courts in every state and over 3,000 nationwide. More than 2,700 people have graduated from Drug Court since 1994.

The individuals who participate in Drug Court are different from the serious drug dealing cases that are charged by our office. Examples of those cases are available here.