Independence Co. creates DWI Court for repeat offenders - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Independence Co. creates DWI Court for repeat offenders

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INDEPENDENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – It was graduation day in Independence County, but not for any high school seniors.

A ceremony was held for a graduate of the Independence County DWI Court, which strives to hold impaired drivers accountable for their actions.

Repeat DWI offenders are given a chance to seek treatment for substance abuse rather than going to jail. The program lasts a year, and the latest graduate credits the rigid requirements for saving his life.

"I want to keep a positive outlook on life," said Matt Harmon of Floral.

Harmon received a certificate Wednesday for officially completing DWI Court, an intensive one-year program aimed at helping repeat offenders like him.

"When you struggle with addiction, you never know the [ups] and the down of everything," Harmon said. "You just care about when your next fix is and when your next drink is going to be. There for a long time, I didn't get it.

"I'm sober one year, one month and two days now," he added. "God's blessed me with a new way of life."

District Judge Chaney Taylor brought the state's first DWI Court to Independence County in 2009 to act as an alternative to jail time.

"As judge I can lock people up in jail," Judge Taylor said, "but if they've got an addiction problem, me locking them up in jail for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, whatever – it doesn't matter – they're still going to get out and engage in the same behavior."

According to the National Center for DWI Courts, the goal is "to protect public safety by using the highly successful Drug Court model that uses accountability and long-term treatment to address the root cause of impaired driving: alcohol and substance abuse."

The program allows second- and third-time DWI offenders to seek treatment through four 13-week phases. Taylor says the first phase is the most intense.

"They have to attend their treatment sessions. Usually, that's about two group sessions and one individual sessions per week," he said. "They have to come and appear before me once a week."

They also have to attend 12-step meetings and regularly get tested for drug and alcohol usage. Failing a test or missing one comes with consequences, like jail time or community service.

While sanctioning negative behavior is necessary, Judge Taylor says it's just as important to reward positive behavior, like advancing to a new phase or another personal achievement.

Taylor leads a team of local attorneys, law enforcement officials, case managers and treatment specialists to administer the sanctions and rewards.

They are currently monitoring the progress of about 15 participants from the Batesville area.

Harmon plans to come back and mentor some of them because he says he can encourage them as they continue working toward sobriety.

"I went to rock bottom. I mean I went further down, and I'm steadily climbing up," Harmon said. "The sun shines every day. You just got to allow it. You got to notice it. You got to notice the birds singing, and I never did that [before]."

Harmon has actually gone through the program twice – an unfortunate situation that Judge Taylor says has happened a few times.

Harmon says his second stab at sobriety proved more successful because he finally committed to quitting. He now hopes to make others understand that, too.

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