RENO, Nev. (KOLO) Shooting up or smoking heroin are foreign to some. But for Rachel, beginning at 15, it was a common occurrence.
“I would use the heroin. It would numb out everything,” says Rachel.
But the occasional use turned habitual. Arrested several times, Rachel says about a year ago, she was offered a spot in the Youth Offender Diversion Court.
“Because it was basically this court or going to prison. And at 20 years old, when I got arrested, prison is a really scary thought. And I didn't want to do that,” says Rachel.
An official graduate of the one-year program, Rachel is elated as to what this means to her future. She says she now has the tools to help her through life that don't include a needle and a spoon.
“We have brains that aren't fully developed. We have brains that have been pre-disposed to substances, certainly heroin or opiates if not other kinds of substances. So we have to get them to a point where they are able to make sound rational decisions,” says James Popovich, Specialty Court Manager.
Popovich says throwing the book at these defendants doesn't work.
But it doesn't mean they are coddled either. They must submit to drug testing, counseling, weekly court hearings, and meetings.
“So that individuals that don't deserve to go to prison have an opportunity to prove themselves, and that's how I preside over this court,” says Judge Scott Freeman, who presides over the court.
Freeman can be a guidance counselor to friend to heavy hand--anything it takes to keep the defendants focused on the end game of sobriety and productivity.
“Yeah, I do think it saved my life. I'm like a completely different person now, and I would have never had the willingness to do this if it wasn't for the court program,” says Rachel.
40 total defendants have or are taking part in the Youth Offender Diversion Program. If they successfully complete the program, their criminal records are expunged. Of those who have graduated, 89% gave remained arrest-free.