Sheriff A. J. Smith continues to pursue his war on drugs on two fronts, and both appear to be showing progress.

The department not only has graduated inmates from its inaugural Fresh Start program, but it’s managed to secure an investment from the county to look further into transforming the former Bay City Work Camp into a full-scale drug rehab center.

On the other front, it rounded up a dozen drug offenders in its Operation Ice Break drug sweep last week (see sidebar)

It’s all part of Smith’s vow to offer the drug-using community a choice: Incarceration, or rehabilitation.

Last month, the jail’s Fresh Start program graduated three young men - Tobias Rhodes, Billy Dalton and Richard Sands – all of whom have completed a year-long program at the jail, aided by mentors such as Fresh Start’s regional director Bill Mills, and several local volunteers, including two retired military men from St. George Island, Army Maj. Gen. James Donald and former Navy bomber pilot Lt. Gordon Hunter.

The three grads now head off to stays in transitional facilities, where Fresh Start founder Tim Terry offers them a chance to forge their character lessons with career guidance, making them responsible for personal decision-making and giving them a way to build a small nest egg that can serve them in their drug-free future.

They follow in the footsteps of former Fresh Start grads Bobby Martin, George Ward, who is now in the Charleston, South Carolina transitional facility, and Justin Gardner, who is at the Panama City transitional site.

Working with the sheriff, Terry used Franklin County as the first site to adapt his prison-based program to a county jail, and he said he has gathered interest for the idea from Kentucky legislators as well as others around the state.

At the June 4 county meeting, Smith secured support from commissioners to invest further in a drug rehabilitation center at the now-vacant Bay City Work Camp. At an estimated cost of between $12,000 and $15,000, the commissioners unanimously agreed to fund plans that would come up with an estimated cost to renovate the dorms at the work camp.

County Coordinator Michael Morón said architect Doug Shuler has had a general contractor visit the site, and that the money will now go towards creating “as built” plans, funded out of the county’s professional services budget.

Commissioner Smokey Parrish, who ultimately voted with his colleagues in favor, questioned whether the money could be wasted if there is no realistic possibility that the facility could be brought up to the standards required by state oversight.

“I’m just waiting on the engineer,” said Smith.

He said at last two suicides in the last several weeks showed the deceased had high concentrations of methamphetamine in their blood.

“I think it is critical that we get this done, and find the money,” said Smith. “There’s a huge need for it.”

The sheriff said there is also a need to address a large homeless population that is growing along with the meth epidemic. “This may also be a chance to help these folks as well dealing with homelessness and addiction,” he said.

Smith said Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison has shown interest in committing $100,000 it has from a large drug seizure to help with a facility that could serve that county’s population of drug users in need of help

“People say ‘I want to stay here but we don’t have a place here,’ said Smith.

Commissioner Bert Boldt said the drug rehab facility would be a good investment. “It looks very promising,” he said.