MISSOULA (KPAX TV) — In the state of Montana, 7,635 DUI citations were issued in 2016, including 815 in Missoula County.
A new DUI treatment court launched in Missoula County on Thursday, thanks to a $87,000 federal grant awarded through the Montana Department of Transportation, hopes to take a chunk out of those statistics by tackling repeat DUI offenders.
Officials from different agencies who are leading the project gathered Thursday to discuss the new treatment courts goals and values.
“What this grant, this year, is going to allow us to do is to accept about 20 participants into the treatment court,” said Missoula County Justice Court Judge Landee Halloway. “The philosophy of the treatment court is to take a holistic approach to working with an individual. Our target population for the court is going to be 2nd and 3rd DUI offenders, so we are going to deal with repeat DUI offenders, and then aggravated or high BAC offenders.
While prosecutors and defense attorneys usually don’t work together, the treatment court setting offers them the opportunity to develop a stick-and-carrot approach to keep habitual offenders sober.
“The exact drivers that are in this program are the ones that the state is the most interested in getting sober and driving sober,” said Missoula County Deputy Attorney Caitlin Williams. “So the prosecutor’s role, my role and Abi, the defense attorney’s role, kind of work together on the incentive and sanctions for these participants going through the court and making sure that they are being held accountable for breaking the law but also that they are working towards recovery and that we are all there with the same unifying goal in mind.”
The treatment court route has shown promise in other cities in the state, like Butte, and the Montana Attorney General’s Office hopes that the Missoula DUI treatment court will have the same results.
“There’s incredible success with treatment courts,” said Montana Chief Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion. “When we look at doing nothing, or just giving people the normal jail penalties, this is incredibly effective in reducing recidivism. So that’s why were such a big supporter, the department of justice and attorney general Fox in creating treatment courts and expanding them around the state.”
According to an evaluation of Michigan DUI court treatment, participants are 19 times less likely to re-offend.
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Mark R Thorsell