Due the ongoing problem of DWI in the State of New Mexico and the Albuquerque area, the Bernalillo County Metro Court took the lead in establishing a DWI/Drug Court in 1997. Though the program is often referred to as Drug Court, it is principally aimed at repeat DWI offenders.
The program’s most immediate goal is to reduce the level of repeat DWI offenders through intensive supervision, counseling and education of repeat offenders. It has been found that many DWI offenders also have drugs in their system so naturally those issues are addressed as well.
Before describing the details of the program, it should be noted that there are a couple of components that deal with the unique needs of Albuquerque and those of the DWI offender population. First, there are a large number of Spanish speakers in Albuquerque and New Mexico as a whole. As such, there is accommodation for Spanish speakers. Second, DWI offenders often have other issues that need to be addressed, most notably mental health issues. These too are addressed in DWI/Drug Court through a special co-occurring disorder track.
Getting to the program itself, the DWI/Drug Court is voluntary. The term “voluntary” is used rather loosely. In fact, DWI/Drug Court may be a condition of a plea and sentence that allows the repeat offender to avoid lengthy jail time. In fact, many offenders are quite displeased with the condition due to the fairly significant burdens placed on those offenders sentenced to DWI/Drug Court. However, DWI/Drug Court is far less burdensome than extended jail time which for repeat offenders can be one year or more.
In addition, many offenders that reluctantly enter the program are very glad that they did once they have completed the program. The program can quite literally save the individual’s life and with it, his or her job and family. The program is intended to address serious repeat offenders with persistent drug or alcohol issues. It is not for everybody. But for those that need it, it is very effective.
The program’s success can be measured by the recidivism rates of its participants. For those successfully completing the DWI/Drug Court program, the Court estimates that there is only a 5% recidivism rate (repeat DWI offense) after 3 years. This is significantly below the 40-60% recidivism rate of those DWI offenders that do not enter the program.
DWI/Drug Court participants must comply with all standard terms of DWI probation including payment of fees and court costs, abstaining from the use of drugs and alcohol, license revocation and so on. However, the DWI/Drug Court goes well beyond these requirements.
The keystone of the program is weekly court appearances where the Drug Court judge will check on the status and progress of the offender. In addition, and often the subject matter of these weekly court appearances, the program participants must meet additional requirements:
– Attend substance abuse counseling which may include group sessions
– Consent to random urine and breath testing
– Attend Victim Impact Panel
– Attend Alcohol and Drug Abuse 12-step meetings
– Complete court ordered community service hours
– Attend all scheduled meetings with a probation officer
Failure to abide by these terms will result in a series of increasingly severe sanctions. These will begin with loss of points for graduation, increased meetings with probation officers, heightened drug and alcohol testing increases in community service and other such sanctions aimed at achieving program compliance.
In the end, repeated violations and failure to comply with the program will result in jail time. Often, the jail time will be short acting as a warning to the offender. If this does not work, then the offender will typically be incarcerated for the remainder of his or her sentence. This is in fact the bait that keeps most people moving through the program, sometimes to their displeasure, but in the end upon graduation to their benefit.