WATERLOO, Iowa --- Ashley Cobb still gets freaked out about asking for money. In the past, cash she received from friends and family went for drugs, a problem that spiraled out of control and led her to forge checks to feed her habit.
Now Cobb, a 29-year-old restaurant cook who has been off drugs for about five years, is trying to get a Pell Grant to go to back to college.
The step wouldn't be possible, she said, if not for Black Hawk County's drug court.
Now in its fifth year, drug court steers nonviolent offenders away from prison and toward treatment and jobs.
"It's so worth it," Cobb said.
She was part of the program's second graduating class and talked with current court clients during a celebration to mark its anniversary.
"This is a fantastic side where everything goes right," Cobb said of her sobriety.
Since drug court's inception, 50 of 69 people who enrolled completed the program, Judge Thomas Bower said. He has overseen drug court since its launch in December 2005.
Participants start with intensive supervision by a probation officer and counselors. Every Wednesday they attend court to give an update. As they begin reaching goals like employment and meeting financial obligations, supervision is scaled back.
The average person takes 12 to 18 months to graduate drug court and move on to an aftercare program.
Bower estimates drug court saves taxpayers $250,000 to $300,000 year, weighing treatment and program costs against incarceration.
He said there are other benefits. When participants are employed, they are paying taxes. They aren't committing new crimes and if they had been involved with the Department of Human Services, those costs usually disappear, Bower said.
But as drug court completes its fifth year, organizers wondered if, in the face of cutbacks, the project will be around in the future.
"There are always the threat of budget cuts," Bower said.
Drug court started with the help of a U.S. Department of Justice grant. It has since been copied in Dubuque, Linn and Johnson counties.
The grant got the program through its first three years.
During the last fiscal year, the project was caught in across-the-board budget cutbacks at the state level but was rescued by the sheriff and county attorney offices, which bailed drug court out with jail room-and-board fees and delinquent fines collections.
Drug court has a $171,000 budget. A federal grant from the Office of Drug Control Policy pays $60,000, and rest comes from the 1st Judicial District's Department of Correctional Services.