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Drug Court Graduation in the Pandemic Era

Posted on Jun 23, 2020 in Featured News, News & Reports


First Circuit Drug Court Judge Matthew J. Viola stands with Drug Court staff and 15 graduates at the 72nd Oahu Drug Court graduation ceremony on 06/15/2020 at the Kaahumanu Hale Courthouse Building. All stand six feet apart and are wearing masks.

Front row: First Circuit Drug Court Judge Matthew J. Viola (center) with Drug Court staff (from left) Lei Kumagai, Christopher Conley, Jeff Galon, Stephen Holbrook, Ana Ochoa, and Stanford Puahi, commemorate the achievements of the graduates with a safe, socially distanced group photo on the front lanai of the Kaahumanu Hale Courthouse.

The First Circuit Drug Court recently held a graduation unlike any in its 24-year history. Traditionally, these events are held in the Hawaii Supreme Court courtroom with family, friends, and distinguished guests. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court celebrated the achievements of 16 graduates by broadcasting the in-person June 15 proceedings to special guests who participated remotely through video conferencing.

First Circuit Drug Court Judge Matthew J. Viola worked closely with staff for several weeks to develop a ceremony that included proper social distancing, masks for all attendees, and other measures to protect everyone’s health and safety. When the 72nd proceedings convened program staff and graduates were able to gather safely in the courtroom, while the Hawaii Drug Court Prosecutor, Public Defender, private and court appointed attorneys, along with other court staff and families of the graduates viewed the ceremony from a separate location. One graduate who couldn’t be there was still able to participate thanks to the video connection.

Counselor Stephen Holbrook and Probation Officer Ana Ochoa wearing masks and sitting more than six feet apart in a room watching the 72nd Drug Court Graduation proceedings on a television showing the video feeds of people participating remotely from different locations.

Counselor Stephen Holbrook and Probation Officer Ana Ochoa observing the graduation via video conference in the client waiting room.

The First Circuit Drug Court is an 18-month program that offers a less costly, more effective alternative to incarceration. Its in-house certified substance abuse counselors administer intensive outpatient treatment to all participants, who also receive mental health and medical follow-up, frequent and random drug and alcohol testing, random home visits, and strict curfew monitoring. The program provides clients with assistance in obtaining employment and housing, frequent review hearings before the Drug Court judge, along with incentives for those who maintain sobriety and attend school or training, or are employed.

Since the program’s inception in 1996, the Oahu Drug Court has had 1,022 graduates.

For more about the program, contact the First Circuit Court Adult Client Services Branch at (808) 539-4500.