Drug Court helps former users turn lives around

A Kaua‘i Drug Court graduation ceremony held Friday afternoon at the 5th Circuit Courthouse marked the culmination of a long journey for 11 drug offenders who have been given a second chance.

At the conclusion of a hearing that featured congratulatory remarks from Family Court Judge Calvin Murashige, state Sen. Gary Hooser and state Rep. Hermina Morita, the graduates had their charges formally dismissed.

Hooser spoke about his experiences growing up with three brothers with drug and alcohol problems, and encouraged the graduates to work hard in the face of adversity and never give up.

Morita thanked the graduates for becoming productive members of society who would be paying taxes instead of being sources of government spending, which is especially important in the current downturned economy, she joked.

The event was also attended by Rep. Roland Sagum, interim Mayor Bill “Kaipo” Asing, Police Chief Darryl Perry, 5th Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe, Drug Court Coordinator Alton Amimoto, council members Mel Rapozo, Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and Tim Bynum, and dozens of proud family and friends of the graduates.

The graduating class was the largest in the history of the program, which started in August 2003 as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent substance abusers. The grads were lauded for their commitment to fixing their mistakes and turning their lives around.

Probation officers ToriAnn Laranio, Jennifer Tone and Jack Viohl went through the case histories for the 11 graduates, starting with their arrests for a variety of drug offenses and ending with their impressive stretches of clean, sober living — longer than a year in many cases.

“Drug addicts don’t belong in prison,” Viohl said, explaining that the Kaua‘i Drug Court program instead requires regular appearances in court, random urinalysis tests and drug counseling that intends to treat the disease of drug addiction instead of punishing offenders.

The graduates — Cory Sarmiento, Cheryl Lemalu, Sonny Suniga, Russell Soares, Matthew Finer, Shirlene Kali, Travis Taketa, Garrett Alisna, David Kaaumoana, Alan Bertolino and Fredie Ramos, according to court records — then had the opportunity to share their success stories and thank those that had supported them during their tough times.

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