START drug treatment court sees largest number of graduates since launch

August 20, 2014

Kayla Ballew receiving her START graduation diploma from Solara Paschal, InAct supervisor on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

Kayla Ballew remembers the November night in 2012 when her boyfriend came home with a ring.

However, the platinum and diamond ring was not a gift. It was stolen property from a neighbor’s home while Ballew’s boyfriend was working on a landscaping job.  

The couple’s plan -- pawn the diamond, then buy heroin.  

“I look at getting in trouble as a blessing,” said Ballew. “I learned from my mistakes and took responsibility for my actions. I just kind of re-learned everything over again.”

Ballew was arrested three more times after attempting to pawn the diamond and she spent two months in jail before committing herself to the START program.

Fast-forward two years -  her life has completely changed.

On Wednesday, Aug. 20, in Multnomah County Judge Jean Maurer’s courtroom, Ballew, Ballew’s boyfriend and five others -- all with similar felony theft charges and drug or alcohol addictions -- received diplomas for completing the START drug treatment court.

START, which stands for Success Through Accountability, Restitution and Treatment, is a post- adjudication program aimed at addressing the root causes of each participant’s criminal behavior and helping reduce recidivism.

START court graduates (from left) Alissa Moxley, Dustin Dandliker, Alex Smelser, James Gardner, Kayla Ballew and Jaime Hoffman anxiously waiting to receive their diplomas.

It works in partnership with the Multnomah County Circuit Court, the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, Metropolitan Public Defender, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, the State of Oregon's Criminal Justice Commission and Volunteers of America..

START court is one of many innovative programs that Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice uses to help accomplish its mission of working with offenders to reduce the recurrence of crimes by helping them change their behavior.   

“There’s really is no quick fix for people and their addiction,” said county community justice manager Wende Kirby. “With everything it takes time and patience but the road we’re going on is making decisions based on evidence and that involves motivational change.”

Department of Community Justice Parole and Probation Officer Ashley Pruen -- who helped award the diplomas to graduates she supervises  --  had tears in her eyes as she described their success.

“We expected graduates to change every aspect of their lives and that includes not having any contact with anyone who might have a negative influence on their recovery.  Some people aren’t ready to make that commitment. It’s challenging, very hard,” said Pruen.

“Kayla came into the program at the height of her heroin addiction but she started making progress, she really took her studies seriously. She got her GED through the Londer Learning Center. Through her sacrifices she was successful.”

Boyfriend and girlfriend James Gardner and Kayla Ballew proudly display their diplomas following their graduation from the START drug court program on Aug. 20.

Many graduates were supported by friends and family in the courtroom while sharing the challenge of trying to stay clean.

Dustin Dandliker explained how he overcame a daily methamphetamine and alcohol addiction.

“I came to learn I have nothing to lose by staying sober. Now I work for a nonprofit part-time,” said Dandliker.

Participants face many requirements. They must complete community service, pay restitution and undergo moral recognition therapy, a treatment strategy aimed at helping participants increase moral reasoning.

“I learned how to be honest,” said Ballew, “I probably would have never stopped if I hadn’t gotten in trouble, so I look at that as a blessing. I’m just thankful that START court was available instead of just throwing me in prison.”

Those attending the event saw the 100th graduate from the program and the largest graduation class since the program launch in 2010.

After receiving diplomas, many graduates are eligible for a reduction in charges and probation.

And most are working at full-time jobs.

Ballew is working at a local Subway restaurant.  

“My boss, he’s cool, he knows my history. I told him everything. And we have a really great relationship. It’s the longest I’ve had a job.”