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Drug Court grads find 'I don't need it'
February 29, 2004

WAILUKU - Before he became sober, George Keoki Hoopii's children would have to push him into the house in a wheelchair when he arrived home after drinking.

"Today, I don't need it. I walk home in the front door," the 40-year-old Piihana resident said. "Today, I trying to be the parent I could not be 20-plus years ago."

Hoopii, who survived a stroke in 1998, credited the Maui Drug Court with giving him another chance.

He was among 11 people who had felony probation periods ended early and criminal charges dismissed Thursday when they graduated from the program that offers intensive treatment and supervision as an alternative to incarceration.

Second Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto, who serves as the Drug Court judge, presented diplomas to the five women and six men.

So far, 119 people have successfully completed the program that accepted its first participants in August 2000, said Barbara-Ann Keller, Maui Drug Court administrator.

She said the Drug Court's seventh graduation ceremony Thursday showed that there's hope in the face of discouraging reports about the dangers of crystal methamphetamine, or ice.

"Every day, we hear about the ice epidemic in our state. Every day, we hear about people getting shot, crimes that are committed," Keller said. "Recovery can really happen.

"Drug Courts are going to do what is necessary for the ice epidemic."

Those who graduated Thursday spent an average of 18 months as Drug Court participants. Some began their treatment in a Maui Community Correctional Center dormitory set aside for Drug Court participants.

While national statistics show that 67.5 percent of those in prisons are rearrested within three years of being released, Keller said those who participated in Drug Courts did better, with rearrest rates of 22.5 percent to 30.8 percent last year.

The rearrest rate for Maui Drug Court graduates was even lower, at 16.6 percent, 

Keller said.

She said the conviction rate for Maui Drug Court graduates was 7.4 percent, compared with a national average of 47 percent.

"Addiction drives the crimes," Keller said.

The graduates said they had learned to have lives that don't revolve around drug addiction.

"My head tells me I can go out and get loaded," said Erik Ekenberg, a 35-year-old Kula resident. "My heart tells me if I go get loaded, I'll be sitting back here in oranges and shackles. I've used up all of my get-out-of-jail cards."

Before being admitted to the Maui Drug Court in 2002, Ekenberg had spent most of his life since 1996 incarcerated for crimes including theft.

Now, he is working and raising his 7-year-old daughter. "I paid my taxes for the first time in 35 years," he said.

Hoopii, also a single parent, said he used to think, "I deserve to go out and get a beer" after his stroke that left him disabled.

His probation on a theft charge was set to end in December 2001 until he tested positive for drug use. Facing an extension of his probation, he thanked his probation officer for steering him to Drug Court.

"If I didn't get into the program, I would probably be dead," he said. "I had to change my way of living. I got to do this for my two kids."

Now, he attends Maui Community College and spends more time with his 16-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son.

Hoopii's probation was ended with his graduation Thursday. "Now the test really begins," he said.

(Written by Lila Fujimoto, February 29, 2004 and reprinted with permission from the Maui News,


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Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.