Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
On a Friday afternoon, dozens of people filled a third floor courtroom of the 2nd Judicial District Court.
The mood was festive as family members laughed and hugged each other. A little girl cooed and babbled. Folding tables were lined with sheet cakes and other snacks.
It was graduation day for Doris Lujan and Andrea Campos – two members of the Young Adult Court program – and while there were plenty of tears, they were tears of joy.
The women are the second and third people to graduate the program, which began in September 2017.
Judge Cindy Leos, who presides over the Young Adult Court, said it is one of five similar programs in the country and was modeled after the court in San Francisco.
“What they’re finding is the brain of a young person isn’t fully developed until they’re 25, so they’re not capable of controlling their impulses and making good decisions,” Leos said in an interview. “When you look at that in conjunction with drug use, trauma and a complete lack of stability, of course they’re committing crimes. So what we want to do is treat them not like kids, but also not like adults because they’re in their own special group at this point.”
Two years ago, Campos was addicted to methamphetamine and heroin. She had lost custody of her two young children and was arrested for stealing an Albuquerque Police Department bait car from the uptown Marriott Hotel.
Now, after completing the program, the 24-year-old is sober and has regained custody of her 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She is still with their father, who is sober now himself, and attended her graduation with their little girl.
Lujan, who just turned 25, was arrested in April 2017 for battery on a health care worker. She was pregnant at the time and addicted to drugs.
By going through the program, she got treatment for substance use and for the traumatic brain injury, which had been contributing to her erratic behavior.
On Friday, Judge Leos presented Lujan with a letter dismissing her case along with her certificate of graduation.
Leos said the program started out with three participants and now has 22 – many of whom attended Friday’s graduation. They’re in the process of screening 15 others.
A representative from the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Office of the Public Defender, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and local treatment providers meet every week to discuss the participants, how they’re doing and what they need help with.
“We want to take people who are heavily addicted with serious trauma in their past, or traumas, and have no education, no job, and multiple things going on and try to get them the structure they need to get through it so they don’t re-offend …,” Leos said. “You can see this light go on and something clicks. I saw it happen with Andrea and it was amazing, all of a sudden it was going great.”
Now Campos plans to become a mentor in the program, and then hopes to eventually get a job as a counselor or a case worker so she can help others who were in the same situation she was.
“This program has really changed my life,” she said. “I don’t think I would have been able to do it this fast without them. I got my kids back. I have my own house now.”