District Court holds 10th Sobriety Court Graduation

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"With this graduation of four," said the Honorable Louise Alderson, opening the 10th 54A District Court Sobriety Court Graduation, "we have 56 graduates of the program."

Sobriety Court, which began in 2005, was the City of Lansing's response to the serious community problem of drunk driving. Last year, exit interviews of the graduates were used as part of the evaluation of the program.

As a result of the extensive evaluation, some changes, including increasing phases length were implemented explained Judge Alderson.

"Another change is the use of the Interlock program now available to probationers," she said. The Interlock device allows them to drive, stops some fines and costs and aids in getting their license sooner. There is also legislation allowing the fact of Sobriety Court graduation to be used as evidence of sobriety to the Driver Review Board.

"We are constantly evolving and growing. Our court is a model for other courts," she said.

Heather Duhoski, Sobriety Court Probation Officer called each graduate, with their family and friends, to come to the front of the court to receive their certificate of graduation. Each had a story to tell and comments such as following were common:

* "I wouldn't be standing up here without the court. The transformation is amazing. They had a plan, I didn't."

* "Congratulations, brother, you finally did it."

* "Whoever invented this program is a genius. It can save your life."

The City of Lansing Sobriety Court's mission is to enhance the public safety and community welfare by reducing recidivism among alcohol offenders.

The mission is accomplished through an interdisciplinary team approach, which includes intensive supervision, individualized treatment, and personal accountability through frequent judicial review. The program will effectively use court and community resources to support individuals in developing and maintaining a substance free lifestyle.

54A's Sobriety Court program utilizes court and community resources to support individuals in developing and maintaining a substance free, sober lifestyle.

Departments assisting include 54A probation with Heather Duhoski, Sobriety Court Probation Officer, and Robin Osterhaven, Sobriety Court Coordinator.

Other members of the team include the treatment providers, a defense attorney, the Ingham County Prosecutor, the Ingham County Sheriff's Department and the Lansing Police Department.

Each graduate must complete the required four phases of the program, which include:

Phase I: Beginning your sober lifestyle (12 week min)--weekly judicial review and meetings with probation officer, substance abuse counseling, random drug screening, 12 step meetings, random home visits, journaling and payments to the court.

Phase 2: Creating your healthy living plan (12 week minimum)--judicial review every four weeks, meet with probation officer every two weeks, community service, complete a 'Healthy living plan and continue all other programs listed in phase 1.

Phase 3: Working your healthy living plan (12 week min.)--judicial review every six weeks, meet with probation every two weeks, 20 hours community service, 3month reviews with counselors and continue all other programs listed in phase 1.

Phase 4: Giving back, preparation for transition (16 week min.)--judicial review every eight weeks, meet with probation officer monthly, 3 month reviews with counselors, continue all programs in Phase 1, pay court fees in full and update your plan.

A Graduation ceremony is held when all phases are completed and all fines, costs and restitution paid, however it is not the end for the graduates. The final phase, Living Your Plan, can last one to two years and is post-graduation. It requires judicial review and meeting with probation every three months, submitting monthly report form, three-month reviews with counselors, 12 step program and random drug screening.

The 54A program is available to non-violent offenders who have been convicted of repeat misdemeanor drinking and driving offenses. The participants must live in the greater Lansing area. The program does not discriminate based on race, gender, sex or national origin, as long as they meet the original eligibility requirements. Non-eligibility criteria will include a history of violent offenses, drug delivery and sale and a significant mental health diagnosis.

In 2007, the Ingham County Sobriety Court Foundation, established by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, was developed to support local sobriety courts to meet the needs of its participants.

Hon. Donald Allen, Jr, oversees the sobriety court program in 55th District Court in Mason and Hon. Janelle Lawless manages the treatment program in family court in which substance abuse is a significant factor. The goal is reunification of parents and children.

The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. For more information, contact Steven B. Robbins at 517-323-7500.

Published: Mon, May 7, 2012

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