Missoula County is establishing a DUI treatment court designed to break the cycle for repeat drunk drivers and reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road.
An $87,000 grant from the Montana Department of Transportation will initiate ROAD (Responsibility, Opportunities and Accountability for Drivers) Court, which will work with offenders found to be at high risk to re-offend and with a high need for treatment.
To qualify for the program, people must go through a post-conviction screening. Acceptance in the program, which can take on about 20 people at a time, will make participants eligible for reduced jail time and fees.
Missoula County accounted for 815 of the state's 7,635 DUI citations in 2016, according to numbers presented at Thursday's announcement in Missoula County Justice Court. Thirteen impaired crashes were fatal that year.
The county consistently holds a top-three place in the state for alcohol-impaired crashes.
"I have found a particular passion in this work because I think it takes a holistic approach to working with impaired drivers," said Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway, who spearheaded the program in Missoula County. "In receiving this grant our team was able to attend some training that sets national standards and a foundation for how we move forward."
The team that makes up the DUI treatment court program draws from county, state and private resources, including a prosecutor from the county attorney's office, a defense attorney, a licensed clinical social worker, a sheriff's office detective and a probation officer.
A part-time court coordinator was hired as part of the grant, which also helps pay for program evaluation, testing and supplies for participants.
The idea is to identify those who would benefit from having resources to achieve sobriety after their court case concludes. The team members will work together with participants, rather than as adversaries, setting individual goals for each participant for a holistic approach.
"All too often people feel shuffled through the system," defense attorney Abigail Rogers said. "This team — that will help people get through their criminal case, get treatment and stay in their lives for a longer period than if they weren't part of the treatment court — is a great way to keep them from committing future DUIs."
Accountability is another staple of the program. Oftentimes, meeting goals can be hindered simply by not having the support system around the offender, said Melissa Thompson, a misdemeanor probation officer who will be taking a role in the treatment court.
"It's not that a person doesn't want to be sober; there's real trouble doing so because of support," she said. "I think its going to be very helpful for these participants to have a healthy team of people in their corner guiding them ... hopefully to a new set of behaviors and a path in life."
ROAD Court begins next month, and will be held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.