Santa Cruz County, AZ - In 2020, Justice of the Peace, Emilio G. Velasquez implemented a Recovery Court program in Santa Cruz County. The grant-funded program, in collaboration with local organizations, provides a restorative justice approach to treat individuals who have committed nonviolent crimes related to substance abuse. The recovery court treatment suspends charges until defendants have completed the program successfully in an attempt to address underlying substance abuse.
In December of 2022, the program exited the first Recovery Court graduate. R.T., identified only by initials to protect his privacy, stood before Judge Velasquez for the last time. “It’s amazing that a whole year has gone by,” said Velasquez.
Judge Velasquez congratulated the defendant for all of his hard work in the program over the past year. The program not only requires a lot of self-reflection and hard work but good time management skills as well. Participants are required to attend a number of meetings each week for peer support and substance abuse, as well as submit to regular drug testing and counseling.
“I had to attend and actively participate in weekly meetings at the Circles of Peace. I had to find a sponsor to help me get and stay sober. I had to attend multiple AA meetings every week. I had to undergo random drug tests on a weekly basis. What a nuisance! What misery! What a disaster,” said R.T.
Judge Velasquez read aloud in court a letter submitted by the graduate titled, “How Recovery Court has helped my recovery and changed my life.”
As the words from his letter echoed back to him, R.T. showed genuine emotion, particularly when the Judge read about the defendant's experience with Circles of Peace. “I met the wonderful people at Circles of Peace who showed genuine care for me. I felt understood, safe, and among my peers. It was there and then that I decided to turn my life around for good.” From the very first meeting, our group leaders made it clear that their goal was not to judge me but to help me stay sober and succeed.”
Before providing the defendant with a certificate of completion and a congratulatory cupcake, Judge Velasquez read aloud the defendant’s final expression of gratitude for the program.
“Last but certainly not least, I want to sincerely thank Judge Velasquez and his Recovery Court. His passion for the program and his strict compassion for the defendants is obvious and plain to see for all. The simple fact that he helped change the name Drug Court into Recovery Court says it all. He believes we are all flawed human beings who make mistakes but that with the right treatment we deserve a second chance. I, for one, have gratefully taken that chance with both hands and am set on paying it back to our community.”
Photo Credit Shannon Enciso
Justice of the Peace Emilio Velasquez hugs Recovery Court Program graduate at the conclusion of his hearing.