Otter Tail County Celebrates DWI Court’s Life-Saving Treatment Program
Otter Tail County is celebrating National Drug Court Month. Treatment Courts (Drug, DWI, and Mental Health and Veteran) have been shown to be one of the most successful justice programs for reducing addiction, crime and recidivism while saving taxpayer dollars. Otter Tail County has operated a DWI Treatment Court since 2008. DWI Court is a program in which offenders convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) choose to participate in order to reduce jail time and receive life-saving treatment.
DWI Court programs focus on chemical dependency treatment and accountability while giving participants a chance to repair their lives, reconnect with their families and find long-term recovery. A diverse team comprised of a chemical dependency assessor, probation officers, judges, victim advocates, law enforcement officers, and behavioral health professionals facilitate the DWI Court program. Otter Tail County’s DWI Court is served by a steering committee made up of leaders from partnering agencies such as Otter Tail County Human Services, Sheriff’s Office, Probation, and Attorney’s Office, the Department of Corrections and the City of Fergus Falls, Lakeland Mental Health as well as a victim advocate.
National Drug Court Month is a celebration of the lives restored by programs like Otter Tail County’s DWI Court. Rather than continue to allow individuals with long histories of addiction and crime to cycle through the justice system at an expense to the public, counties use the leverage of the court to keep them engaged in treatment long enough to be successful.
The Otter Tail County DWI treatment court is one of more than 3,000 nationwide annually serving 150,000 people. The accountability and treatment clients receive in DWI Court leads them to opportunities such as employment, stable housing, education, reunions with family, reinstatement of a driver’s license, paying child support and taxes.
This May, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners signed a resolution declaring May 2019 ‘National Drug Court Month’. Tria Mann, DWI Court Coordinator, presented the program’s annual overview to the commissioners. Mann reported that the court is funded through a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety and assistance from the County by supporting half of the salary for the probation officer position. Since 2008, 142 people have started the DWI Court program. To-date 100 have competed the program for an 82% completion rate. Today, nineteen people with a DWI conviction are currently in the program.
Commissioners expressed concern for the impact addiction has on families. Hallie Metcalf, Probation Officer, reported that the DWI Court program works with the entire family. Family reunification is one of the major successes of the program. Graduates share that these improved family relationships are one of the best outcomes of the program. “During the 18 months, I am most proud of being a better father and buying a house,” stated a recent graduate. “I don’t think I could have stayed sober without this program which made everything else possible.”
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, numerous studies have found that treatment courts reduce crime, drug use and save money. Research shows treatment courts also improve education, employment, housing, financial stability and family reunification, which reduces foster care placements. These trends are seen in the outcomes of the Otter Tail County DWI Court program. Mann reported that 22% of graduates improved their employment status and 89% are renting or owning their own residence. Also, 49% of those who complete the program have a valid driver’s license while 9% of non-completers do not.
The success of Otter Tail County’s DWI Court program sends a powerful message that Treatment Courts should be expanded to reach more people in need. County Commissioners signaled support for exploring expansion of the program. Law enforcement also reiterated the need for an expanded court program. “Day to day, charges stem from drug use. Accountability (through a drug court) is important,” said Sheriff Fitzgibbons.
Today, DWI courts and other treatment courts have proven that a combination of accountability and compassion saves lives while also saving valuable resources and reducing traditional court costs. For more information visit Otter Tail County’s DWI Court.