Judge Ricardo Rodriguez, of the 92nd District Court was recently elected by the Board of Judges to preside over the newly formed Drug Court. This State funded program is structured to allow first time offenders of non-violent crimes a "second chance" before a conviction.

"Many of the offenders are young adults that are smart, good individuals but have made really bad choices. It is our goal to get them back on course and into society with a real chance at doing it right," explained Rodriguez. It is the Drug Court's objective to provide several layers of guidance, monitoring, and serious consequences to these individuals as they navigate through eighteen months of intense drug counseling, strict probation conditions and routine court appearances.

Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA) is a non-profit organization that serves Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr Counties with job training/skills development for demand occupations. Together, VIDA and the Drug Court have launched a pilot program that offers these individuals one year training programs with continuing career paths. "We are very excited to participate as part of the Drug Court team. By partnering in this effort, these individuals will obtain the skills set that will ensure an opportunity for a good paying job. They will have one more tool to stay out of the court room and get back on track," commented Myra GarcĂ-a, Executive Director for Project VIDA.

Rodriguez's weekly court hearings are preceded by a review with the Drug Court team conformed of Hidalgo County's Adult Probation Program, The Rio Grande Valley Counsel, and VIDA. This group reports advancements, issues, actions and related matters for each participant to the judge who then talks to each offender in court, making his interaction with each individual very personal and powerful.

Rodriguez states with conviction, "I believe that we can make a difference in redirecting these individuals' futures. If we can do it for one, it's already a success."