Court program gives new lease on life to victims of human trafficking

First graduates mark success of CHANGE Court
Posted at 3:34 AM, Dec 01, 2016

CINCINNATI – "I can't worry about tomorrow. I have to worry about today because that's what's important," says Carrie Swafford.

What's also important is that the recovering drug addict and former prostitute has a real future now thanks to Hamilton County CHANGE Court.

The two-year program, run by Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell, is designed to give those caught up in human trafficking a chance to get clean and walk away with a clean record.

Carrie Swafford holds her nephew at CHANGE Court graduation.

Swafford and another woman became CHANGE Court's first two graduates Wednesday in an emotional ceremony in Russell's courtroom. There were lots of tears and hugs with family and friends made along the way.

Swafford says CHANGE Court (Changing Habits And setting New Goals is Empowering) not only wiped her criminal slate clean, it turned her life around.

READ more about CHANGE Court below.

"Never thought it would come, but I'm glad it's here," Swafford said.

A few years ago, Swafford was out on the street, caught in a vicious circle of drugs and prostitution.

"The heroin is what took me out there. The heroin is what kept me out there," she said.

Recovery hasn't been easy, the judge said.

Judge Heather Russell

"It's been a lot of hard work," Russell said. "Not every week has been a good week. They've had down times."

But now Swafford has a job at a bakery and a new lease on life.

"It isn't easy," Swafford said. "It's a struggle everyday. Sometimes day to day. Sometimes minute to minute."

But moments like Wednesday – including hugging her young nephew - make it all worthwhile.

The CHANGE Court program has been offered to about 50 women. 

"I think we've shown it can work," Russell said. "We can build on it. We can enlarge it."

As for Swafford, it's helped her find something stronger than heroin -  bonds with family and friends.

"That's what keeps me sober," Swafford said, "that love and that family and the relationships we've built."

READ more about the Tri-State heroin epidemic at