Thirteen youth came before District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield in Courtroom 3C of the Forsyth County Hall of Justice last week to receive their first set of instructions and mandates.
Most of the offenders were 15 or 16 years of age, and almost all admitted to using marijuana daily.
Through the drug court, which is supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice
, youth ages 12-16 will have access to a variety of treatment options and programs designed to help them get on the right path.
It is a far cry from a traditional courtroom setting where youth could face harsh punishments for their drug-related offenses.
Many of the youth - who were referred to the court by other judges, counselors or drug treatment providers - have been expelled from school or simply refuse to go, according to their mothers.
told the teens that school attendance would be mandatory throughout the duration of the program, which could last anywhere from nine to 18 months, depending on the individual needs of the youth.
"It's exciting," said Chief of Court Stan Clarkson, who has been heavily involved in Reclaiming Futures, a community-based youth drug treatment collaborative, for years.
"It's a good opportunity to bring a treatment focus for kids who really need some redirection in their lives."
Despite the seriousness of the circumstances that brought the group together, Hartsfield
kept the mood intentionally light during the inaugural session.
cracked jokes and conversed easily with the young defendants, professing her
staunch support of their journeys and unflinching belief in their respective abilities to be successful.
brought along two pineapples to symbolize the role of the court in the youths' lives.
"Since the pilgrims came in colonial days, the pineapple has been a symbol that means welcome," she
"I want everyone to feel welcome and to be very comfortable on this journey… There are going to be some slips - there are going to be some falls - but the pineapple tells us that we're all welcome here and we're all working together."
likened the teens to the fruit, which she
said has a "rough, prickly" exterior, but "what's inside is fleshy, juicy, sweet and absolutely wonderful.
told the youth that many of the defendants who come before her
- both young and old - land in her
courtroom because of an alcohol or drug addiction.
"One of the goals that I would have is trying to make sure that you never have to see adult court," she
"…I anticipate that we're going to have a great deal of pineapples in here, and we're going to celebrate some folks."
The Reclaiming Futures court differs from traditional juvenile court because it is treatment-focused, Hartsfield
Because it is grant-supported, program leaders have access to resources that aren't traditionally available in juvenile courts, such as regular drug testing and research-based assessment tools that aid the treatment team in identifying the best possible treatment program for each offender, Hartsfield
Youth who adhere to the court's directions will be rewarded with a variety of incentives in Hartsfield's
"treasure box," ranging from gift cards to event tickets.
Those who do not comply will receive sanctions, everything from required book reports to detention, if necessary, she
The Forsyth County Adult Drug Court became one of the first in the state when it was implemented in 1996 as one of five pilot programs in North Carolina.
Both courts fell victim to state budget cuts.
The juvenile court has been defunct since 2011.
"We're extremely fortunate and very, very happy to be able to start this court up again," Hartsfield
told those present in the courtroom for the start of the program last week.