The recidivism rate for the DUI/Drug Treatment Court program is now 3 percent, well below the national average of 8 percent, said Lynn Epps, director of the program operated through the county's State Court.
Since its inception in August 2005, 381 people have entered the program, and 177 have graduated. There currently are 101 people in the program, she added.
The program, founded by county State Court Judge C.J. Gober, coordinates substance-abuse intervention for repeat DUI offenders with judicial support through sanctions and incentives. It includes five phases of varying lengths that are designed to help participants gradually transition from frequent to minimal supervision.
Ms. Epps said the program is open to offenders who live in Cherokee and have been charged with two or more DUIs within five years or three or more DUIs in their lifetime.
Offenders are given the choice of jail time or to participate in the program, she added.
"They make the choice that this is what they want to do," she added.
Ms. Epps said the program continues to be successful because of the constant contact between participants and administrators.
The program includes frequent alcohol and drug testing, home visits to make sure there's nothing that will "hinder the progress" of offenders and meetings in court at least two times a month, Ms. Epps said.
She added the program sees a wide variety of people, ranging from doctors and lawyers to homeless people. The age of participants also greatly varies: from 18-year-olds to people in their 60s.
To help participants better transition back into a sober lifestyle, the program this week launched the Cherokee Friends of Recovery Alumni Group.
The group will provide a support base for those who are nearing graduation or already have completed the program.
It also, she said, will give alumni the opportunity to help others who are struggling to prevent themselves from falling back into their previous lifestyle.
A kickoff meeting was held Thursday night to gauge interest among alumni and current participants.
Ms. Epps said the group is ideal for graduates who "no longer have a system in place to support them" once they leave the program.
For program alumnus Roy Jensen of Canton, the group is just want he needs.
Jensen said it would help alumni from "spiraling downward" after they graduate and give them the opportunity to aid others in their journey.
His experience with the DUI/Drug Court program was a positive one, Jensen said.
"They treated me with dignity and respect," he said. "You're just not a number. They actually care about you with this program."
Echoing Ms. Epps, Jensen said graduates need a strong support system in place to keep their lives on tract.
"And for some, that's extremely important," he said.
For information about the program, how to participate or to make a financial donation, call Ms. Epps at (678) 493-6450