Tanya Jeffords said she was stunned when she learned she had been named Accountability Court Hero by the state of Georgia.
She was attending the Accountability Courts Conference in Atlanta in May and said she thought she was there for someone else.
“It was a complete surprise to me,” Jeffords said. “Apparently Judge (James) Blanchard submitted my name and said that I was a wonderful person and really fought for the clients and access to drug court, which I do.”
Jeffords is passionate about helping young people. It’s what led her to create Dream Builders of America’s Youth, a nonprofit that mentors youths to be a positive influence in their lives.
It is also one of the things that drives her dedication to the drug court.
“You have some of the greatest moments in drug court when you see people just make a turn and say I’m really ready to be clean for me. Not because a judge told me to, not because I’m going to fail my test and go to jail, but because I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s for me now,” she said.
Jeffords helped develop the drug court and serves as the defense attorney.
As such, she and the rest of the drug court team – representatives from Stepping Stones to Recovery, the probation office, the district attorney’s office, and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office – work with defendants who have committed a nonviolent felony to support a drug addiction.
Those admitted to the program go through a rigorous 24-month drug-rehabilitation program.
They are drug-screened three times a week in the beginning and go through five phases of treatment. If the program is completed successfully and the participant stays clean for at least one year, felony charges are dismissed.
“It’s really about prevention, reducing the recidivism rate of people in our community, because if people are going to remain addicted to drugs, the reality is they’re going to continue to commit crimes to support their habit,” she said. “We try to go by the motto that if we can treat the underlying addiction then we can decrease the crime in the future.”
There are a few places where Jeffords would like to see improvement, the main one being the $150 monthly fee, which she says is too steep in some cases.
It keeps people out of the program who would benefit from it, and there are several participants who would graduate but can’t because they haven’t finished paying the fees, she said.
According to national and state standards, Augusta’s drug court is doing very well.
Still, Jeffords said success should not only be measured by graduation and recidivism rates. It should also be measured by the amount of “clean time,” the ability to attend work while participating in the program and the number of lives it saves.
“There are a number of people that would be dead but for drug court,” she said.
Jeffords doesn’t consider herself a hero. In her opinion, the real heroes are the ones who fight for sobriety and win.
“When I received the hero award, I was really excited about it, but I would like to see a hero award in the state of Georgia for a graduate of the program. Somebody who has overcome the addiction and is maintaining that, because that’s the real hero,” she said.