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Pioneer Editorial: DWI Court success with small steps

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opinion Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Sometimes successes are measured in small steps, when then can lead to bigger steps and to larger successes.

The Beltrami County DWI Court is one of those small successes, but one which proves a process works that can have long-range implications -- both financial and societal -- in curbing recidivism in drunken driving.

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In ceremonies last week, three people were graduated from the 2-year-old program. Since it takes two years to go through the DWI Court process, two graduates in February and the three last week are the first from the program.

Geared as a diversion program for people with their third or fourth DWI convictions, DWI Court offers an intensive two-year shot at rehabilitating drunken drivers so that don't return to court again for a DWI offense.

Five people may not be enough to turn the tide of drunken driving in Beltrami County -- a county near the top in Minnesota for drunken drivers per capita -- but the small successes of five people have, first, turned their lives around and, second, shown a method that works and should be expanded.

Currently, only 20 t0 25 people may enter the program because there isn't the staffing levels to support the intensive and intrusive supervision demanded by the program.

Funding is also a concern, especially with state budget woes and unallotment of many human services programs. But DWI Court is funding through state judiciary funding, and so was untouched by unallotment. And the state courts budget took a 1 percent cut, nowhere near the feared cut of 10 percent which probably would have seen DWI Court funding slashed.

Another success of the program is the cross jurisdictional cooperation shown in it. From prosecutors, to law enforcement, to public defenders, to elected officials, to chemical dependency counselors, to human services staff - all work together for the desired outcome of a person who refrains from substance abuse, has regained their driving privileges and can lead a productive life.

Such a program can help Beltrami County curb future cost in jail time, human services program costs in welfare and subsidized health care and, thankfully, the more expensive costs associated should an inebriated person become involved in a traffic crash.

And there is the cost to society if that crash takes the life of someone else.

Beltrami County District Judge Shari Schluchter has done a laudable job of overseeing the DWI Court from its inception. She has a real passion for the mission of the court, one which has no doubt rubbed off on its participants.

Taxpayers need be reminded that it is a service that Beltrami County need not provide, but it is and we believe it has more than proved its worthiness for continued support and funding.

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