Since 2009, 131 area women have avoided long, mandatory prison terms for nonviolent drug and alcohol offenses by completing the Women In Recovery program.
A group of 16 women composed the program's 10th class of graduates, and dozens of family members, friends, counselors and legal professionals gathered in the old city council chambers to honor their achievement.
Women In Recovery participants get more than 500 hours of treatment and counseling, and 14th District Presiding Judge William Kellough — who often sees these cases on his criminal docket — backs this approach to keeping women out of prison.
"From the standpoint of a judge, wanting to have the right result and — justice, I guess, is the term to use — and as a taxpayer and a citizen of Oklahoma, I support the program," Kellough said.
Lisa Pearson was among today's graduates. She spent 23 months in the program and said it means everything to her.
"This program has given me the opportunity to work for a wonderful company and make a decent living for me and my children," Pearson said. "We actually have a future."
The program has kept hundreds of children from having to see their mothers in prison. Oklahoma leads the U.S. in the number of incarcerated women per capita.
There are more than 2,500 women in the state's prisons, most of them in need of substance abuse treatment.