Sobriety court gets $50K grant renewedPublished 9:08pm Thursday, November 15, 2012
CASSOPOLIS — Jail time does not change addictive behavior but treatment that teaches people to live alcohol- and drug-free does work, according to national statistics that track such treatments.
In Cass County, this holds true as well, according to the success rate in Cass County Sobriety Court.
For that reason, Cass County Fourth District Court is continuing to apply for and receive money to operate its sobriety court program through a $50,000 renewable annual grant from the Michigan Court Administrative Office and the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Locally, there is a 71 percent retention rate for program participants.
Ten of the 14 participants admitted have either graduated or are still in treatment, according to records. The average number of days graduates are retained in treatment is 462. Of the four program graduates, none have re-offended.
While the statistics are small, the program is relatively new and the numbers are representative of results across the country, program officials say.
Random drug and alcohol testing, treatment and judicial supervision are
hallmarks of the local program, according to District Judge Stacey Rentfrow, under whose jurisdiction the sobriety court and treatment program fall.
Twenty individuals who have drug and or alcohol problems and either have a pending criminal case or who are on probation may be eligible for the program this year, Rentfrow said recently.
“It is a voluntary program,” she said. “They must plead guilty to a crime, either a felony or a misdemeanor, or even be on probation.”
But what is different, she said, is that instead of being in a traditional court setting where she would make all decisions about punishment, participants in the sobriety court program are involved in a team-making decision process.
The team that works with the participant, she said, includes a case manager, Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Victor Fitz, a treatment counselor, a defense attorney, a member of the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and case aides who conduct the random drug and alcohol testing.
The case manager insures that, through a tracking program, the participant is doing everything Rentfrow has ordered.
“With the team approach, the judge has much more information to monitor the process,” she said.
Because of the grant funding source, program participants are only eligible as a result of a traffic-related incident or probation related to an offense such as driving under the influence of alcohol of drugs.
A total of 20 participants a year are selected in Cass County.
Grant monies pay for the random drug testing, either in the participant’s home, job or community; monitoring by the case manager, and treatment, depending on the individual’s insurance and financial situation, Rentfrow said. It also pays for transportation to insure participants are able to attend treatment sessions.
Through grant monies, case managers assist participants with housing and social security issues, as well as transportation to doctors’ offices and Michigan Secretary of State offices, the latter where individuals apply for restoration of their driver licenses.
Eligibility for the program is determined before the guilty plea and sentencing.
Rentfrow said some individuals actually elect for jail time because of the program’s intensity.
Sobriety court can last for two years, with 15 months set as the minimum.
Once an individual completes the program, he or she is released.
“They will have graduated and have no further court obligation. This is their probation period. It is just more intensive than the traditional court,” she noted.
Locally, graduates attend an average of 50 court hearings, participate in an average of 144 hours of treatment annually and attend an average of 156 self-help support group meetings each year.
More than 1,100 drug and alcohol tests are administered each year and less than 1 percent of the tests have been positive in the last two years, officials say.
The program began in 2009 with a planning grant from the Michigan Court
Administrative Office. The court itself was established on Oct. 1, 2010, funded by the administrative office and the Office of Highway Safety Planning. The initial grant was for $60,000.
A significant change is in the cost of treatment versus incarceration, officials say.
The average annual cost of incarceration per person is $30,000 while the average cost per year per participant in Sobriety Court is $3,642.