Graduation Day for Leon County Drug Court Participants

Leon County's drug court aims to give first time drug offenders a second chance at a clean criminal record and it saves the rest of us thousands of dollars.

Richard Macak was busted for possession of marijuana and ecstasy just three days after starting classes at FSU

"First I was worried what my parents would think. Then I was thinking about the severity of the possession charge, I had 10 pills on me, and that's three to five years mandatory minimum in the state of Florida. So that wasn't too appetizing," says Richard.

Richard is one of about 95 people in Leon County's drug court. It offers first time felony offenders a chance to have their charges dropped if they agree to a year of treatment and regular urinalysis.

George Reynolds, Circuit Judge, says, "About one third of the ones in there go straight through, they don't really have a problem. Another third have a bump or two in the road and the other third, maybe 20 percent, have a fairly significant chemical dependency problem."

Participants who fail their drug tests or fail to attend mandatory counseling are swiftly punished. This man will spend the next three days in jail, but Leon County's drug court has a 75 percent success rate and only one in seven graduates winds up back in the criminal justice system later.

Richard Macak is one of three people graduating this week.

"Finish school, do my job, be able to get hired for a good job and stay away from drugs," adds Richard.

As you can see in the video, there's a real cross section of people in drug court: from college students to middle age professionals, and they were busted for everything from pot to prescription drugs.

It costs about $1,800 a year for each drug court participant and the defendants themselves pick up about a third of the tab. If those same people were convicted in criminal court and got a typical sentence of two years probation and 30 days in jail, it would cost taxpayers more than 100 grand.