Michigan Sobriety Court Grads Have Better Chance of Beating Odds

March 12, 2008

Lezlie Holden got a phone call late one March night in 2006 saying her ex-boyfriend’s son was hurt and at the hospital.

Despite the few drinks she’d had that night, Holden got out of bed, into the car and started driving. She was pulled over and arrested for drunken driving before she ever got to the hospital.

Nearly one year later, Holden’s brother, his fiancee and their granddaughter were killed by a drunken driver.

“That could have been me or any one of us,” the 39-year-old Holt, Mich. woman said.

Holden recently became one of 14 graduates of the 55th District Court’s Sobriety Court, an intensive alcohol abuse recovery program. It’s available as a sentencing option for those convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and who have a demonstrated history of alcoholism.

The program has been extremely successful compared with other rehabilitation efforts, District Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said.

While the average recidivism rate for those who complete rehabilitation is about 23 percent nationally, officials said only four of the 103 Sobriety Court graduates over the past 10 years committed another alcohol-related offense.

“There are some things that people can only achieve with a broad leap in the other direction,” Aquilina told the graduates. “You all have taken that leap.”

Participants must submit to frequent drug and alcohol tests, attend substance abuse treatment classes and pay the cost of the program.

Those costs vary depending on how long it takes to complete, but Holden said it cost her about $15,000 for a year.

If a participant fails to complete even one part of the program, he or she is immediately sent to prison.

David Goforth, 37 of Brighton, said he didn’t realize he had a problem even after being arrested for driving after drinking during an Okemos golf outing in 2006.

Goforth said he heard the stories during his alcohol abuse and recovery meetings about how alcoholics drink to ease their pain, because they’re bored or for no reason at all.

“I had intended to just sit there (during alcohol abuse classes) with all of it just getting in one ear and out the other,” Goforth said. “A few weeks in, I realized they were talking to me.”

Aquilina said the program saves more money than is spent because taxpayers don’t have to pay for the costs of arresting and jailing someone like Goforth if they don’t commit another offense.

Aquilina pointed to Yvonne Smith, 50, of Lansing, as evidence that the program works.

In 2004, Smith drank whisky daily, whether mixing it in her coffee in the morning or having a nightcap before bed. One August day, Smith sat in her car in front of a Delta Township cell phone store and drank until she was comatose.

The person who found her said they thought she was dead, Smith recalled.

Instead she, like the graduates she addressed, completed the Sobriety Court recovery program. The 2007 graduate said she hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in more than three years.

“I’m a miracle,” Smith said. “I am a miracle.”

Source: Lansing State Journal.

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