During remarks that kicked off a ceremony honoring the achievements of several probationers, Moses Massey, senior resident Superior Court judge for Surry County, noted that a typical day in court can be overwhelmingly negative.
“It’s the nature of the business,” the judge said to a full courtroom on Monday. “But there are occasions, like stars in the black sky, when there is something to celebrate. And we’re going to begin this morning by celebrating.”
The ceremony was held during an administrative session of Superior Court, which almost exclusively addresses probation violations.
Seated in the jury box, graduates of the Cognitive Behavioral Instruction (CBI) program and recipients of monthly Successful Story Awards received applause instead of a judgment.
The CBI graduates recognized were Katherine Bowman, Lee Childress, Victoria Lineback, Ricky Southern, Mark Tate and Mitch Willard.
Successful Story Award recipients were Karen Ayers, Jaime Chavez, Lee Childress, Brian Conley, Kurt Love, Nancy Roten, Mark Smith and Marty Sumner.
Several law officials attended, including Teresa O’Dell, clerk of Superior Court, County Sheriff Graham Atkinson, Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson and Ricky Bowman, district attorney for District 17-B.
After details of their individual accomplishments were shared, the honorees received certificates and individual congratulations from Massey, David King, judicial district manager of District 17, and Brian Gates, judicial division administrator.
The CBI graduates were introduced by the program’s director Tina Whitaker.
“They had the opportunity to challenge some of their attitudes and beliefs,” she said. “It takes determination, it takes commitment, it takes perseverance when things seem to fall apart around them. And they continued. And so I am very proud.”
Whitaker described how one graduate, Lee Childress, of Mount Airy, rode his bicycle three hours every day for several months to make it to meetings.
Successful Story Awards are a new incentive program established in 2015 where officers nominate an offender from each unit in the district who have overcome obstacles to meet their probation requirements or made significant lifestyle changes.
These awards and the ceremony are examples of how officers from District 17 are following a statewide initiative to use positive reinforcement to help rehabilitate offenders.
Gates said other districts are trying different kinds of incentive programs such as awarding gift cards, bus passes or personal hygiene products, establishing MVP of the month programs and posting shout outs.
“By no means is this watered down probation,” Gates said. “Public safety is our number one priority. The rules and regulations are always going to be enforced. But if we can acknowledge positive offender outcomes while maintaining public safety it’s a win-win for the citizens.”
Terri Flagg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.