Written by John Plestina
Roosevelt County’s new DUI Task Force discussed asking 15th District Court to establish a DUI Court sentencing diversion program Wednesday, May 7.
The DUI Court Program, in existence nationwide since the 1990s, uses substance-abuse interventions and treatment, and is dedicated to changing the behavior of alcohol and drug dependant offenders arrested for driving under the influence. DUI Court uses a premise that most repeat offenders are alcoholic.
So far, the Fort Peck Tribal Court is the only court in Roosevelt County that has embraced the DUI Court program and orders participants to attend 12-step recovery meetings and obtain attendance verification signatures.
Seventh District Court which includes Dawson, McCone, Prairie, Richland and Wibaux counties uses the DUI Court program.
An increasing number of judges across the nation have accepted that they cannot jail their way out of the ever-increasing drunk driving problem and are sending people convicted of DUI to the DUI Court program.
DUI Court was modeled after the Drug Court program, established in Miami-Dade County, Fla., in 1989. Today, Drug Court is used in many locations across the nation and there are hybrid DUI/Drug Court programs in use in several judicial districts in Montana.
Fort Peck tribal members who have felony status DUIs enter the DUI Court program, locally administered as a 12-month, four-stage program that includes substance abuse treatment, daily check-ins, positive activities and required attendance of 12-step recovery meetings.
Failure to comply with the requirements result in sanctions that could include jail.
“The inn is full will major criminals,” Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford said.
The aging Roosevelt County Jail cannot accommodate the current volume of offenders. Roosevelt County voters will consider a bonding measure Tuesday, June 3, asking for authorization for the commissioners to issue and sell $11.86 million in general obligation bonds to be repaid within 20 years that would fund a modern and larger jail.
“Hopefully, after June 3, we’ll have another inn,” Crawford said.
“They need help. They don’t need jail time,” Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald said during the last DUI Task Force meeting.
“I want to get our judges to do it,” he said, referring to a possible DUI Court in 15th District Court.
Fort Peck Tribes probation officer Courage Crawford said if 15th District Court establishes a DUI Court, services for clients who are not tribal members would be available through Spotted Bull Recovery Resource Center in Poplar.
Medicine Wheel, a cultural-based spiritual healing circle, is a spin-off of the DUI Court program. The group that addresses alcohol, drug and other addictions meets every Friday in both Wolf Point and Poplar and is open to the public.
“We talk about the reasons why they drink,” Courage Crawford said.
In addition to Medicine Wheel, there are 12-step recovery program meetings in Wolf Point and Poplar.
The Montana Department of Transportation funds the DUI Court program.