Leaders of the new Platte County DWI Court recently gathered to recognize the first six graduates of the program. The leaders included (from left) Tri-County Mental Health CEO Tom Cranshaw, Tri-County Associate Director JoAnn Werner, Circuit Judge Dennis Eckold, Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahn, and Clay, Platte, Ray, Mental Health Board Trustees Sandra Ferguson, chair, and Beverly Sue Ryan.
On a recent weekday, a Platte County courtroom was home to a standing room only crowd. Even a judge, several public officials and lawyers were standing at the back of the room.
The occasion wasn’t a major trial or hearing. It was Platte County’s first graduation ceremony for a one-year-old DWI Court, a second chance for six men who had racked up multiple charges for driving while intoxicated. The graduation marked not an easy option from jail time and fines, but a grueling, 12-month confrontation with their weaknesses that all agreed had changed their lives.
One of the men put his experience in stark terms. “It saved my life,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”
Like similar Drug Courts in Clay and Ray counties, Platte County’s DWI Court includes an intense, multi-pronged attack. It also draws on expertise from throughout the community, Coordinated by Tri-County Mental Health Services, the effort involves collaboration with the Platte County Circuit Court, law enforcement and Missouri Probation and Parole. Working together, they have developed a program that focuses on issues ranging from alcohol/drug addiction and recovery, restitution, community service and counseling.
“The DWI court has some differences from the drug courts,” explained Tri-County Associate Director JoAnn Werner. “There are alcohol-related offenses involving a vehicle, so there are requirements such as ankle (bracelet) monitoring that can detect alcohol use and ignition interlock systems on their cars. But the basic concept is the same: to break the cycle of addiction and the results of that addiction.”
Judge Dennis Eckold of the Sixth Judicial Court leads the court effort in collaboration with Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd. Another DWI COURT graduate may have best described their role. “Thank you, judge and prosecutor. I never thought I’d say that.”
The yearlong program involves even more area organizations, including the Clay, Platte, Ray Mental Health Board; Tri-County; Avertest Drug and Alcohol Testing; Missouri Probation and Parole; Electronic Sentencing Alternative; Northland Alternative Services, Midwest ADP and the Platte County Sheriff.
For participants, the efforts include a demanding array of community service, individual and group counseling, testing and meetings. Fees include payments that help fund the program. They are monitored several times each week for alcohol and/or other drug use and are accountable to all members of the DWI Court Treatment Program.
“It’s more than just treatment,” Werner said. “They are definitely responsible to the community and are changing their day to day lives.
The most difficult elements for graduates, and the current “class” of more than 30, may be counseling or other areas where they must face their own weaknesses. One graduate noted how much he initially hated counseling, but admitted that the breakthrough was worth the pain.
“This program taught me not to take any shortcuts,” he said. “Now I can live with peace and integrity. I owe that to you.”
Werner added that both the DWI Treatment Court and older Drug Courts are complex, but share a similar goal. Such courts provide much better success rates than even severe jail sentences, with much lower rates of recidivism. “The biggest benefit is that people can return to and contribute to their communities,” she said.Another graduate agreed. “It saved my personal and professional life,” he told the graduation crowd. “I would not be standing here with a job otherwise.”
Like us, share, e-mail or print: