ASA Elizabeth Johnson
JOLIET – Eleven years ago, 18-year-old Elizabeth Johnson’s lifelong dream of becoming an attorney nearly went up in smoke.
She had fallen in with a bad crowd and was hanging around a drug house that had been targeted by police. She was abusing marijuana and on the verge of graduating to harder drugs. And she
Facts About Drug Courts
● Nationwide, 75 percent of Drug Court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program.*
● Drug Courts reduce crime by as much as 45 percent compared to traditional sentences.*
● Nationwide, Drug Courts save as much as $27 for every $1 invested when considering only direct and measureable offsets such as reduced re-arrests, law enforcement contacts, court hearings and the use of jail or prison beds.*
● Drug Courts save up to $13,000 for every individual they serve.*
● In Will County Drug Court, defendants plead guilty upfront, but criminal charges are dropped if they complete the intensive program. They must remain drug free, submit to random drug tests, find work, follow through with treatment and attend weekly counseling sessions. Most Drug Court defendants would be eligible for less intensive probation in a traditional court. They take a tremendous risk when they choose Drug Court, because failure can mean a prison sentence.**
● More than 250 people have successfully completed the Will County Drug Court Program.**
● The three-year success rate for the Will County Drug Court is 96 percent. This means that defendants who completed the program over the past three years remained arrest-free in Will County.
● Will County Drug Court is believed to be the only program in the nation to open and operate a recovery home. The home houses men who are nearing completion of the program. A home for women is in the planning stages. The existing home is named The Miller Taylor House after one of the Will County Drug Court’s first graduates.**
* National Association of Drug Court Professionals
** Will County Drug Courthad been arrested for felony disorderly conduct as a result of the time she was spending with her drug-abusing “friends.”
Life was spinning out of control. And she knew a felony conviction would prevent her from attending law school and becoming a lawyer. It had been her dream career since she was a girl and she would dress up with an old brief case while pretending to be in court.
Johnson, however, was offered a second chance when she was allowed to participate in a fledgling Drug Court program spearheaded by Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. The program helped her clean up her life and avoid a felony conviction that would have dogged her job search forever, resulting in a life of professional disappointments and closed doors.
In the ultimate validation for the program, State’s Attorney Glasgow, the same prosecutor whose office filed the felony charge against her when she was a teenager, recently welcomed her back to his office, this time as a new assistant state’s attorney in his Misdemeanor Division.
This month, Assistant State’s Attorney Johnson will tell her success story at the annual conference hosted by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals in Washington. She also is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee about the effectiveness of Drug Courts.
“Elizabeth Johnson made some bad decisions that could have cost her the career she loves before she even graduated from high school,” said State’s Attorney Glasgow. “Our Drug Court Program put her on a straight-and-narrow path. Ironically, that path has come full circle. Thanks to Drug Court and her hard work, I was proud to bring Elizabeth on board as an assistant state’s attorney with my office.”
Drug Courts are designed to integrate drug abusers back into the community by helping them break the addictions that drove them to commit non-violent offenses. Defendants plead guilty upfront with the agreement charges will be dropped if they complete the program and stay clean. In Drug Court, defendants must remain drug free, submit to random drug tests, find work, follow through with treatment and attend weekly sessions if they are to graduate.
Johnson’s experience illustrates the program’s potential for success. As a teen in her hometown of Morris, Ill., she was an honors student. But she began running with the wrong crowd and started smoking marijuana at a drug house in nearby Joliet, Ill. In 2000, while police questioned her about illegal activities at the house, she gave false information about an armed robbery and kidnapping, neither of which had occurred. She was charged with felony disorderly conduct.
Her attorney saw the connection between her drug use and her crime and sought to enroll his client in Will County’s new Drug Court. Johnson seized the opportunity. “I was in a downward spiral,” she conceded. “I was smoking marijuana, but I could see myself sinking lower with this crowd. I knew I would start using harder drugs and landing in more trouble.”
In Drug Court, she disassociated herself from the group, attended outpatient sessions and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She also began taking courses at Joliet Junior College. She transferred to Northern Illinois University and received a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis on pre-law. She was later accepted to John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where she graduated in May 2010.
While in law school, she made the courageous decision to apply for a legal internship with the office that once had prosecuted her. “It was intimidating,” she admitted. “I would have rather buried my past. With so many good things happening in my life, I didn’t want to look back.”
State’s Attorney Glasgow gave her a chance, and based on her performance as an intern, he eventually offered her a position as a misdemeanor prosecutor. “This is a phenomenal story of dedication and hard work,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that no matter how hard she was willing to work, she wouldn’t have gotten her foot in the door at John Marshall Law School, much less with this office, with a felony conviction on her record.”
Johnson still lives in Morris where she is raising her young daughter. She is a member of First Assembly of God Church in Joliet, where she coordinates a prayer team and teaches Bible study. At the State’s Attorney’s Office, the initial trepidation she felt as an intern has faded.“At first I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here. I felt like I was riding on God’s grace,” she said. “But once I started doing the work, I fell in love with the job and the team atmosphere. People went out of their way to help me as an intern. It was a great learning experience. Now I look forward to a long and rewarding career.”