Second of a two-day series.
It wasn’t that long ago that Debbie and Duane languished in the pit of despair.
Their last names are not being used to protect their anonymity.
Debbie, a 31-year resident of Flagstaff, slowly lost everything of value to her as her addiction to alcohol worked hard on killing her.
Duane was on his fourth DUI arrest and thought he was a hopeless case destined for prison.
Debbie also faced multiple DUI charges and a lengthy prison sentence.
Instead of going to prison, both were accepted into the Coconino County DUI/Drug Court program. Duane has been graduated for some time. Debbie is still in the program.
Duane has regained his life. Debbie is working hard to regain hers.
“I thank God for the opportunity of the DUI/Drug Court program,” Debbie said to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors during a presentation last week. “It’s enabled me to be useful in the community.”
After 13 years of going it alone, the DUI/Drug Court is asking the supervisors for permanent financial help from the county to sustain its service.
Without the county’s help, the program will be forced to scale back by 2017or close shop because funding that has helped keep it going for more than a decade is dwindling.
CHEAPER, MORE EFFECTIVE THAN PRISON
Sixto Valdivia, coordinator for the DUI/Drug Court, gave the supervisors a cost comparison. To house the average inmate in prison for a year, the cost is more than $21,000. To put one offender through the DUI/Drug Court costs about $6,000.
DUI/Drug Court, started in 2001, is a year-long program for people charged with nonviolent felony crimes who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.
The four- phase program is aimed at rehabilitating offenders through regular drug testing and individual and group counseling. Drug court has the ability to apply immediate sanctions (like jail, community service, etc.) for those who go off track and offer incentives for those who do well. The goal of the program is to keep the offenders out of jail or prison, keep them sober and help them become contributing members to a community.
The program allows judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, substance abuse treatment specialists, probation officers and more to work together to support the offenders in dealing with substance abuse problems.
Valdivia said that more than 600 people have graduated from the program since it started.
Judge Pro Tem Ted Reed, who serves as the judge who presides over DUI/Drug Court, said that according to national studies, 75 percent of DUI/Drug Court graduates have not reoffended two years after graduation. The same cannot be said for people leaving prison, which according to county jail staff, more than half return to prison within a two-year period.
“We see individuals changing their lives with our help,” Reed said.
Gary Krcmarik, Coconino County Superior Court administrator, said that to date, the program has been funded by grants from federal and state agencies. The county began receiving what is called Fill The Gap funds from the state in 1998 in the wake of federal grant funding to add police officers and prisons. The federal funding did not include additional money for courts, prosecutors or public defenders to handle the increased caseload that would result from more officers.
So, the state came up with Fill The Gap funds to fill the gap of processing additional case loads. That money began accruing in Coconino County, and when the DUI/Drug Court began in 2001, there were funds available, augmented with other grants that were secured, to run the program.
Over the years, the DUI/Drug Court was expanded, and at the same time, FTG funding, because of economic conditions, has started to dwindle. In recent years, the expenses of the program have begun to exceed the revenue and funds from the FTG account are being used to offset the difference.
“Basically, we’re dipping into our savings account,” Krcmarik said. And by 2017, FTG funds will be exhausted.
At that point, the DUI/Drug Court will face some tough choices — including reducing the size of the program and the number of people it can serve, or terminating the program — unless permanent funding assistance comes from the county.
The court requested that the county fill up the shortfall in the budget to prevent the need to use the FTG money. That amount, tentatively, is about $83,000 to the approximately $467,000 budget.
SUPPORT IS THERE
The supervisors lauded the program and the accomplishments.
“This is a truly wonderful program,” said Supervisor Mandy Metzger. But, she added, is supporting the DUI/Drug Court an appropriate role for the county, or should other providers be found to take up the financial burden?
Supervisor Liz Archuleta requested the court make a budget projection for the DUI/Drug Court out through 2017 so the supervisors can better evaluate what the county can support.
“I feel the DUI/Drug Court is more than just a touchy-feely program,” Archuleta said, adding that the court has proved measurable success. “To me it’s a program that I value and would like to see continue.”
Debbie is now the manager of a sober living house for women. She has a full-time job. She is able to work with other alcoholics and is very active in a 12-step program.
“It helps me help them with the same struggles I have had and do have,” Debbie said.
Duane has a job, is close to his family again and regularly offers to make presentations on what the DUI/Drug Court has given him.
“What it has given me, and I think it is very vital, is the support,” Duane said. He added that the structure of the program has given him a discipline to live well. The program gave him that “push” he needed.
In total, there have been about 7,700 DUI or drug cases filed in Coconino County Superior Court since 2001. Less than 10 percent of those cases were diverted to the DUI/Drug Court.
“That’s not enough,” said County Public Defender Kevin O’Brien
Instead of thinking about serving fewer nonviolent, addicted defendants, the court should consider expanding, O’Brien said.
“You have to fund this program,” O’Brien said. “Our community needs this program.”
The devastating effects of substance abuse run deep, O’Brien said. It is generational, and, if people are to regain their lives, the cycle needs to be broken.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or email@example.com.