'No Repeat Customers' Lubbock Drug Court Transforms Lives

Part One of a Two-Part Special Report on the Lubbock County Drug Court System

LUBBOCK, TX - Drug offenses are particularly difficult to handle in the court system. Just ask Judge Ruben Reyes, who presides over the Lubbock County Drug Court program when he is not performing his "regular" duties as District Judge for Lubbock County's 72nd District Court.

"Drugs don't discriminate," Reyes said. "Don't care whether you are young or old, white, black, brown, whether you are educated or uneducated whether you were raised on a certain part of our town or not. Drugs don't care."

Battling drug addiction, a "disease," requires a special approach sometimes, Reyes said. That is one of the reasons Steve Henderson helped bring the system, which succeeded in other states in the pat, to Lubbock County more than a decade ago.

"The number one goal is to not have repeat customers," Henderson said. He serves as the director for the Lubbock County Adult Probation Department. "We want them to get clean and sober and  to never have to face the legal system again. We want them to have successful lives."

"Substance abuse addiction is an extremely difficult thing to kick, so we hit it from every angle possible," Henderson explained, as he detailed the numerous classes, court sessions, meetings with counselors, and other requirements that participants undergo.

One of those participants was Natasha Sperling. She turned to drugs as a teenager after trouble in her family.

"I've been doing Methamphetamine since I was 15 years old," she said, "And I've continued on a road of drugs and crime all this time."

"Started marijuana, and cocaine, and alcohol, and whenever I was 16, I started using Methamphetamine intravenously, and when I was 17 i got busted for manufacturing," Sperling told EverythingLubbock.com. What followed was "a stint on probation, in prison, and several rehabs."

"Just miserable," Sperling said.

"Busted with a lady who injured a police officer and I was offered drug court and probation, and I took it," she explained.

The 18-month program changed her life.

"Your main people that you go to have to be clean, and sober, and want good things," she added. "When you go in there, it's not an easy program, but they really do care about you, and they want you to succeed. I've never felt that from people like that, from a different background than me, want me to succeed and want good things for me, and push me that direction."

According to Reyes, the statistics speak for themselves. 78 percent of graduates obtained/retained employment, 21 percent received a high school diploma or GED, 12 percent enrolled in college, and 14 percent enrolled in vocational training.

"Instead, they're going through a drug court program where they're out working, being gainfully employed, paying taxes, that's a good thing," Reyes said.

Additionally, it saves taxpayers and the state.

"The average cost of treating to treat a child addicted to drugs though no fault on their own... a quarter of a million dollars. So we just saved Lubbock County a quarter of a million dollars because that child was born drug free," Reyes explained. He also said incarceration costs $20,000-$50,000 per drug-offender, per year, while the cost of an effective drug court system was typically less than $2,500 yearly.

"I can have a parent come to me and say, 'because of this program and because of what you guys did, I have my son back, I have my daughter back. Thank you for doing that,'" he mentioned. "Or the kids who see what their parents are going through, maybe the kids have been removed and have been with foster care or they've been placed with a family member. They say 'Thank you for giving my mom back to me, or thank you for giving my dad back to me,' and that's phenomenal. And then you have the participants who say 'I have my life back."

For Sperling, who said she has been clean and sober for three years, said she was grateful for her healthy relationship with her kids, her probation officer, and her life.

"I have a good recovery," she added.

"Life isn't always easy, but it's a lot better than life on drugs," Sperling said.

For more information about drug court, click here.

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