December 19, 2011

The country’s second oldest drug rehabilitation court marked its 20th anniversary with a celebration that included both alumni from the court and many of the judges who supervised the program’s 2,500-plus graduates to sobriety.

“It keeps paying back dividends from the commitment the judiciary and the county has made in it,’’ said retired Judge Harl Haas, who founded the program in Multnomah County.

Haas was one of about 100 people who packed a sixth-floor Multnomah County courtroom Dec. 15 to celebrate the landmark date for the county’s Sanction Treatment Opportunity Progress (STOP) Court.

Among the invited guests were three STOP Court graduates, each of whom spoke eloquently and emotionally about how the program saved their lives.

“I was given a second chance through the drug court system,’’ said Sage Herron, a self-described drug user since he was 16 until a felony cocaine possession charge in his 30s.

“The biggest victory in this program is I don’t want to ever use again,” Herron said.

Preceding the anniversary celebration was the regular graduation ceremony for the most recent round of five STOP Court graduates in the third-floor courtroom of Judge Angel Lopez.

Multnomah County’s STOP Court -- the nation’s second oldest such court after the drug court in Dade County, Fla. -- provides options for those with substance abuse problems who face criminal charges of Level 1 Felony Drug Possession or Tampering with Drug Records.

Participants undergo intensive substance abuse treatment and report often to drug court for compliance with a program that has proven results in reducing recidivism.

Volunteers of America manages the program with funds from the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration, Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, client fees and third-party insurance reimbursement.