'Saved my life:' Drug court program offers offenders a chance to change

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Drug court is a statewide program that often can be the last opportunity for people to change their lives; the alternative is usually prison time.

Amy McFarland graduating from drug court on September 21, 2017.

For Amy McFarland, this was certainly true.

She graduated from the program on September 21, 2017.

"For me, it saved my life, and I know it's done the same thing for others," McFarland said.

McFarland had a long struggle with using meth.

When police arrested her in March of 2016, she knew there was only one option.

She said, "I knew that this drug court was it. This was my last shot. And I was going to make it work."

There are about 120 other people who have enrolled in drug court in Dubuque.

McFarland is one of just 49 people, about 52%, who have graduated.

That may not sound very impressive, but she's living proof.

"I think a lot of her gifts were hidden under maybe some lack of confidence or maybe some doubt, self-doubt, but she just has blossomed as a person," Bill Hickson, Catholic Charities worker, said.

Hickson is part of Amy's support group.

As a drug court requirement, McFarland had to attend three different meetings a week, whether it be at NA, AA or with a support group.

She chose Catholic Charities as her support group.

"We're there as their backup, their friends. It's an opportunity for them to meet positive role models, good citizens," Hickson said of the support group.

In this room, these friends help her set goals.

With Amy, they focus on family, housing and work.

"We try to help them find the resources that they need in order to achieve those things," Hickson said.

And it's not only Amy who has gotten something from this group; it's the volunteers, too.

"It's made me stronger and more aware of people's situations and how strong the addiction is and how it just, it's really hard to break the addiction," Joyce Smith, one of McFarland's support group sponsors, said.

Drug court is a state-funded program.

It costs the state $22.89 a day for each person who's in drug court.

Compare that to prison where the daily state expense for an inmate totals $95.84.

Despite the much lower cost for drug court, that program is usually among first the state considers for cost saving efforts.

For McFarland, now 583 days sober, she knows how much this program has done for her, and vouches for its value.

She credits the friends she's met through her support group, to the structure the program gave in her life. Everyone else credits her hard work and diligence.

Even though she's graduated, she continues attending meetings.

"Drug court is a tool and I think that's a tool I want to keep with me forever," she said.