Does Illinois Need DUI Courts?

Road AheadDoes Illinois need DUI Court?  Currently Illinois supports community justice programs such as drug courts, however the state of Illinois does not yet have a specialized DUI court program beyond the traditional criminal division courts that are assigned the offenses related to driving under the influence.

A recent article in Georgia’s Gainesville Times explains DUI Court and its benefits, which are located in approximately 19 counties across Georgia, the following are some excerpts of the article published March 24, 2013:

“As substance abuse caused his life to spiral out of control, Jason Bennett began to lose hope.

“I thought my life was over, that there was no future for me,” he said. “I figured I was going to die, or be in jail my whole life.”

After getting his second driving under the influence conviction in 2005, he was ordered to participate in Hall County’s DUI Court program.

Believe“I don’t feel like I was strong enough to get sober on my own. DUI Court is what gave me my second chance at life,” Bennett said, a 2006 graduate of the program.

Bennett’s recovery and the recovery of others speak to the effectiveness of the DUI Court, program leaders said. Often times, people in the grips of addiction feel shame, despair and helplessness.

“The things my addictions had been telling myself were all lies. By putting away all the shame and the fear … that it had created, I was able to recover,” Bennett said. “If they did put me in jail, I would have never broken the cycle. They held me accountable and gave me the chance to do the right thing, and continue down the road I’m on right now.”

DUI Court participants’ time in the program is as long as the judge deems necessary, based on their sentence and cooperation. They must attend weekly court and counseling sessions and submit to random drug screenings, or face reincarceration.

The program lasts a minimum of 15 months, divided into three phases, each five months long. The average length of time is about 16 months, program coordinator Katie Bruner said.

Unlike in drug court, DUI Court is not a way to erase the charge but is a part of probation after conviction, in most cases a second or third conviction, Judge Charles Wynne explained.

Today, according to the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts, there are DUI courts in 19 counties.

In measuring success, the statistics speak for themselves, Wynne said. In 10 years, only 10 percent of DUI Court graduates wound up back in court with a DUI conviction, Bruner said.

hopeBruner noted another impressive statistic: a 98 percent employment rate upon graduation, versus 66 percent prior to the court’s creation.

“A lot of people look at the program and think it’s a cost to society,” Wynne said. “Well, that’s not true on two counts. You have to pay to be in program. And there are countless monetary benefits to society.”

Judge Larry Baldwin, who now presides over DUI Court, spoke at Thursday’s graduation of nine participants. He said he cherished the sound of crying babies in court.

“That’s one more drug-free baby,” Baldwin said, smiling.

Wynne noted that DUI Court’s success requires not just collaboration between judges, participants, prosecutors, counselors and probation officers, but also within the entire judicial circuit to be truly effective; often, the families and participants of DUI Court overlap with other accountability courts.

Program organizers agree that work dealing in abuse and addiction can be mentally exhausting, but it’s worth it.

In fact, it was just the sort of role Bennett saw himself fulfilling when he completed DUI Court. He went back to the University of Georgia and completed his master’s degree in social work in 2011. He now works as a substance abuse and mental health counselor in Gainesville.

“Basically, what I do now is manage people who have mental health issues who are in the court system,” Bennett said.

[Full Article: Gainesville Times, March 24, 2013]

KeysWhile the traditional Illinois DUI criminal courts order offenders to attend counseling through an Illinois licensed DUI treatment Agency, such as The Birt Group located in DuPage County, not all DUI offenders have a substance abuse or substance dependency issue.  Creating a separate court that assists and monitors the progress of offenders with a substance abuse or dependency issue could help to reduce the traditional DUI criminal court docket, provide the community with additional protection, and assist an offender with addressing their disease.

Furthermore, it may help to protect the public from repeat offenders such as the man in Carpentersville, Illinois who continues to drive intoxicated without a valid driver’s license. He has been arrested 5 times for the violent criminal offense of driving under the influence.

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Erin_Birt_ver2_3978Erin Birt is an attorney, certified alcohol and drug counselor, and owner of The Birt Group, an Illinois Licensed DUI Treatment Agency.  She regularly works with individuals that want to learn more about their alcohol or drug use, have a diagnosis of substance abuse or dependency, or have been arrested in Illinois for a DUI offense.  The Birt Group runs its DUI risk education, early intervention, and treatment program on the weekends.  To learn more or enroll in our Illinois DUI Risk Education, Moderate Risk, or Significant Risk services, please contact us at (630) 891-2478.

The Birt Group serves Illinois clients in Winfield, Warrenville, Carol Stream, Wheaton, West Chicago, Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst, Chicago, Joliet, St. Charles, Batavia, and other cities located throughout Cook County, DuPage County, Will County, Kane County, McDonough County, Boones, County, Dekalb County, and other counties throughout Illinois.  The Birt Group is licensed to provide services for any DUI arrest in the State of Illinois and we also can provide services to Illinois residents that have been arrested in a different state while attending college, on vacation, or traveling.  Please contact us to discuss your requirements and needs at (630) 891-2478.

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