The Little Rock Division has selected Judge Mary Ann Gunn to receive the Director’s Community Leadership Award.
Judge Mary Ann Gunn manages one of the most effective public services available in Northwest Arkansas—the Washington County Drug Program. This is a pretrial diversion program, meaning first-time, nonviolent drug offenders can have criminal charges dropped if they successfully complete the program. As a circuit court judge, Mary Ann Gunn's normal court duties alone leave her little time to spare for additional duties. She chooses to add Drug Court to her responsibilities, often volunteering her services. She was nominated for her efforts as she volunteers her time to take the Drug Court to area schools, showing young people firsthand the awful price of getting involved with a lifestyle that offers pain and heartache once it becomes an addiction.
According to Judge Gunn, who has held Drug Court on school campuses since 2001, the program "gives a glimpse of reality that can lead to students making positive choices resulting in healthy, productive, and drug-free lives.” The results have been eye-opening experiences for young people as they face serious decisions about drug use.
The 10-year-old Drug Court program provides addicted adults a structured approach, which gives the willing person hope for the future. Participants complete 136 hours of group therapy and 148 hours of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, along with 22 hours in Drug Court, a battery of drug tests, and community service. After completing this regimen, the participants may have the felony charges dismissed.
What makes Judge Gunn’s approach novel is that she brings Drug Court to area middle school and high school students. Judge Gunn was the first judge in the United States to take Drug Court to schools. She has held Drug Court at a school twice a month during the school year since 2002. Students observe official court proceedings where criminal defendants reveal their histories of drug abuse. The defendants appear in shackles, handcuffs, striped jumpsuits, and armed escorts to plead their cases before the judge.
After the court proceedings, Judge Gunn has the opportunity to speak with the students about drug abuse and its consequences, and these discussions have had profound effects on the student observers. Students and parents have written to her telling her how their attendance at Drug Court has helped them make the decision to remain free of drugs. To date, she has received more than 3,000 letters.
The dedication of Judge Gunn to keep the harmful consequences of drug abuse in the minds of seventh and eighth graders and her passion to protect children are not only evident in her official position as a judge but also in her personal belief that “everyone deserves a second chance.”