(WBIR-Wartburg) It has been one year since a drug recovery program, aimed at cutting down the number of repeat offenders, opened in East Tennessee.
Morgan County is home to the nation's first state-wide residential recovery court.
Since it opened in the end of July 2013, 60 people, who would have otherwise been in prison, have stayed at the Morgan County Residential Recovery Court in Wartburg.
After seven years in and out of jail, Barry Cunningham, 29, of Maryville, has spent almost 11 months at the recovery court.
"I played college baseball, had a significant injury, and I lost my scholarship. After I lost my scholarship, I was kind of looking for something to fill that void and I found it in pain pills," Cunningham said.
Cunningham is one of 33 non-violent felony offenders in the program who take part in chores, group counseling, 12 step meetings, and community service. The 29-year-old works in the kitchen; him and the other residents budget, shop and plan for all their own meals.
"This is what I consider to be the one bright spot in the criminal justice system. Where the state of Tennessee is trying to seriously address the underlining causes of criminal behavior," said Brad MacLean, program director.
According to MacLean, since the recovery court opened last year, 14 people have graduated from the program. Some have relapsed, but none have gone back to jail.
The state saves $30 per person each day by housing them at the recovery court versus prison.
"The overall cost is less than half of what it would otherwise cost the state before you take into consideration the additional cost when people re-offend and come back into the system. So the savings are very substantial," MacLean said.
More than the monetary savings, it has the possibility to save lives.
"I feel like I am ready. There comes a time in any person's life where you've been told so much, you've been taught so much, it's time to apply it," Cunningham said.
Residents spend a minimum of 9 months; on average, MacLean said residents spend 10-11 months at the recovery center.
"So many people are very quick to write us off just because we've made some bad mistakes," Cunningham said.
He went on to say, "We just need a second chance. And I think everyone here will take full advantage of that. I know I will."
Cunningham graduates from the program next week. After he graduates, he will continue to work with the Blount County Drug Court.
This is a pilot program; however, Governor Bill Haslam has said he wants to add more recovery courts in different parts of the state within the next few years.
According to MacLean, officials in other states have been looking at the pilot program as a possible model for recovery courts in their states.