WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Specialty Court graduate Kelly said Wednesday she could have gone to prison for screwing up and committing a crime.
But, instead, she found the two-year program that was able to get her on the right track, give her a second chance in life and allow her to be a mother to her 3-year-old son.
“Now, I’m independent. I’m a strong woman. I don’t know what I would have done (without specialty court),” said Kelly, who did not disclose her last name. “Having depression, or other mental illnesses, doesn’t mean you have to stop living.”
Kelly was one of six people who graduated from the program Wednesday. Now in its fourth year, the program saves tax dollars that would be spent on prison lodging while addressing mental illnesses and increasing public safety.
Two others, including a military veteran, were accepted into the program Wednesday.
“This program is a success because of the people in it,” said county Judge William Amesbury, who presides over the court. “We’re working for the betterment of all.”
As of Wednesday,23 county residents have completed the two-year program. Most offenders who end up in the program face non-violent misdemeanor or felony charges, though some with violent charges might be accepted on a case-by-case basis.
A team reviews offenders’ criminal history and psychological assessments before voting whether to accept them into the program. The illnesses of past participants have included major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Their crimes have ranged from theft and trespassing to terroristic threats and arson.
Due to state law and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations, participants of the program cannot be identified.
The two clients accepted into the program Wednesday included Joseph, a veteran who will work with the Veterans Administration to complete his program. Joseph was charged with several crimes that he agreed to plead guilty to Wednesday, including criminal conspiracy, retail theft, theft from a motor vehicle, simple assault and resisting arrest.
Geri also was accepted into the program and agreed to plead guilty to a charge of retail theft. Geri and Joseph will each serve two years in the program, which is a supervised probationary period. “If you should not be successful (in completing the program), I could sentence you,” Amesbury told the two.
Other graduates expressed their gratitude to everyone involved in the program and for helping them through a tough time in their lives. “I’ve come a long way,” said Marty. “It’s easy to be negative. But you’re getting help … that’s how you have to look at it.”
Graduates T.J. and Mary, who have produced art that adorns Amesbury’s courtroom, said they both have learned lessons thanks to their time in the program. “I hope to never be in trouble again,” T.J. said.
“They taught me how to trust others … how to deal with pain, suffering and (emotions),” Mary said.