Alcoholics behind the wheel:
Treating addiction - County DUI court program takes aim at repeat offenders

SunGazette Williamsport, PA

POSTED: April 27, 2008

You drink. You drive. You get arrested but go on to drink and drive again.

And you get arrested again, and again, to the point that you face a state prison sentence of two or more years.

Some offenders in Lycoming County get one last chance to turn their lives around instead of heading to state prison. It’s the DUI Treatment Court, overseen by county Judge Dudley N. Anderson.

The DUI Treatment Court targets offenders who are about to be sentenced for their third, fourth, fifth and even sixth convictions for driving under the influence. It is their last chance, but one they choose to take voluntarily.

According to Anderson, people who are admitted to DUI Treatment Court are not being given an easy ride.

“We go over applicants and decide who is going to be admitted to the program,” he said. “This is a little bit of a carrot-and-stick method.

“The carrot is that there are mandatory sentences for driving under the influence, and we give them a portion of their sentence and they can get part of that on electronic monitoring, instead of the full term in jail.”

In exchange, the offenders agree to a rigorous alcohol intervention program. Once admitted into the program, Anderson and the court don’t let go.

Phases to treatment

“There are three phases to DUI Treatment Court,” Anderson explained. “Each of the phases is a minimum of four months long, and during the first four months, they have to go through intensive treatment.

“They do 90 in 90 —that’s 90 meetings with Alcoholics Anonymous in 90 days. They do counseling, a number of other interventions that are directed toward treatments, and they come to DUI Court every other week.”

In the second phase, those in the program must attend the same meetings, but for only four days a week over the next four months.

“During that time, they have to meet all the conditions of their supervision, including having all costs and fines paid, completing their community service, and they have to be employed to progress to Phase Three,” Anderson said.

In that final phase, those who are admitted to the program transition to regular supervision.

“They are under supervision for five years total,” he said. “They only have to come to court once every fourth week, and their curfews are relaxed. During the first phases, they have a curfew when they have to be home, the hours depending on their work schedule.”

During that time, they are still prohibited from frequenting bars or “places that are dedicated to alcohol,” Anderson said.

“We also start to give them responsibilities in court,” Anderson said.

“In some instances, we ask them to help another member in the program.”

Watchful eye

They also go to counseling and are subject to unannounced inspections at their homes as long as they are in the DUI Treatment Court program. Anderson said that includes inspections at almost any time, even on weekends and holidays.

If an enrollee is caught drinking or violating other terms of their probation, they are sent back to square one in the program. Violations also include missing any of the meetings or counseling sessions they are required to attend.

“At least once per month, we will send probation officers out at odd hours, like Sunday afternoon or late Saturday night and make sure they are there,” Anderson said.

“We will target certain individuals who we think have a propensity toward difficulty in this program.”

No quitting

But they aren’t allowed to just quit, even though the requirements are tough.

“Once you sign on, you cannot voluntarily be released from the program,” the judge said.

“You can’t resign. The reason for that is you’ve given your quid pro quo — it is our benefit by apportioning your time on electronic monitoring and now it is payback time.”

There are just two ways to get out of DUI Treatment Court — to successfully graduate the program or to go to state prison.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have people who drink,” Anderson said.

“We have some who are pretty hard-core alcoholics, and some of them are in the program for two years or more.”

They get pushed back and have to start all over again, and that leaves a big impression on them, he said.

“Some who violate it usually do so with un-prescribed medication or alcohol,” Anderson said.

“They may have to go to jail for a while, but then they have to start all over again.”

Eventually, repeat violators are locked up. But Anderson recalled only three that took that route.

Along the way, participants who do well are sometimes given small rewards, such as small gift cards, a relaxation of their curfew for special events, or abatement of some time on community service.

High success rate

The program until recently had no graduates reoffend, Anderson said.

“We just had a graduate who got picked up for another DUI and, until that, we hadn’t had anyone who graduated and gotten another DUI,” he said.

“That’s out of 60 graduates in three years, so that’s a pretty good success rate.”

© By ERIC LONG [email protected]

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