By Billings Gazette
Every day counts in Yellowstone County Impaired Driving Court. “I counted it up, 2,553 days of sobriety graduating today” District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisely told the crowd of DUI offenders, friends and family in court Wednesday. Dan Barth had 587 days clean and sober and 701 hours of chemical dependency treatment on his road to recovery, the most among six graduates in District Court. Sheila Beggs had 327 days and 252 negative drug tests.
Last week, the treatment court had 45 participants – all with felony convictions of DUI or criminal endangerment related to drunk or drugged driving.
The need for DUI treatment is huge. A state law enacted in 2011 mandates that people convicted of misdemeanor aggravated DUI be sent to treatment. However, no money was provided. Most aggravated DUI cases seen in Billings Municipal Court are people whose blood alcohol content was more than double the legal limit or who had two DUI arrests within two years.
Nationwide, 10,228 people were killed in 2010 in crashes that involved a driver with blood alcohol of 0.8 percent or higher. Federal grants have helped launch treatment courts across Montana. Thus, the state of Montana has not paid most of the costs.
The Montana Supreme Court’s budget request for the upcoming biennium includes adding $185,000 next year and $272,000 in 2015 for treatment courts. Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the increase would help sustain courts in Yellowstone County, in Richland-Dawson counties and another court serving Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole Counties.
The budget proposal includes $50,000 a year to support DUI treatment courts statewide.
Treatment courts hold offenders accountable by confronting them with their misconduct, requiring them to answer to a judge in court weekly and checking up on their behavior and chemical use with extensive monitoring.
Participants have to go to treatment, AA meetings, show up for all their appointments and urinalysis tests, go to school, complete parenting classes and hold a job.
We call on lawmakers to support treatment courts.