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Beltrami County District Court: DWI Court team reports successes

Fifty participants have taken advantage of Beltrami County DWI Court since its inception in July 2007.

Of those, 27 have graduated, 13 are active participants and 10 were terminated.

The DWI Court collaborative team gave a report Tuesday to the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners.

DWI Court, a collaboration of law enforcement, prosecution, probation and the judicial system, is aimed at repeat drunken driving offenders. Participants commit themselves for 18-24 months to the intense supervisory program. They meet weekly with a probation agent, respond to unannounced yet consistent random alcohol checks and report biweekly to Judge Shari Schluchter.

All participants have been diagnosed as chemically dependent, have non-violent criminal history and were convicted of DWI.

Schluchter reported that the Office of Traffic Safety provided a grant of $16,560 for the year to cover the .75 FTE probation officer's vehicle lease, cell phone contract, drug testing and supplies.

"They have been very supportive," Schluchter said. "We're seeing more people taking advantage of the program."

Ninth Judicial District DWI Court Coordinator Pam Norenberg reported the Beltrami County recidivism rate for re-arrests 4 percent or one of 27 graduates. The recidivism rate for those terminated from the program is 10 percent of three of 10.

Nationally recidivism is 67.5 percent and reconvictions at 46.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice/Corrections/ Recidivism 2008 report.

"Recovery is a process, and relapse is natural," Schluchter said. "Everybody leaves our program employed or going to school."

Of the 13 current participants, 11 are employed, one is in college and one is seeking employment, Norenberg said. That means participants are paying taxes or tuition rather than sitting in jail.

Norenberg cited the savings in jail avoidance for those participating in DWI Court, at a rate of $75 per inmate per day, at an estimated $324,720 as of March.

The recovery also helps the families of those convicted of multiple drunken driving offenses.

"Many of our families come to CHIPS (Children in Need of Protection or Services) Court because of drug and alcohol issues," said Trish Hansen, supervisor for the Department of Corrections.

The demographic for the 50 people served since 2007 are 62 percent white, 34 percent American Indian and 4 percent Hispanic; 72 percent were men and 28 percent were women. Their ages ranged from 19 to 63.

In addition to Schluchter, Norenberg and Hansen, the DWI Court Team includes Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver; Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp and Chief Deputy Mike Bakke; Jail Administrator Cindy Borowski; Chemical Health Supervisor Diane Boben; Mark Smith of Human Services; Bemidji Police Chief Gerald Johnson and Sgt. Dave Hanson; public defender Paul Thompson; Megan Treuer of Regional Native Defense; Victim's Services Coordinator Danna Farabee; Jessica Dewey and Dave Sjostrom of Lakes Region Chemical Dependency; and Lynn Kistler and Amy Shimkus of Bemidji Area Program for Recovery.