Independence Co. creates DWI Court for repeat offenders

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

A ceremony was held for a graduate of the IndependenceCounty DWI Court, which strives to hold impaired drivers accountable for theiractions.

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

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

Harmon received a certificate Wednesday for officiallycompleting DWI Court, an intensive one-year program aimed at helping repeatoffenders 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 nextfix is and when your next drink is going to be. There for a long time, I didn'tget it.

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

District Judge Chaney Taylor brought the state's first DWICourt 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, "butif they've got an addiction problem, me locking them up in jail for 30 days, 60days, 90 days, whatever – it doesn't matter – they're still going to get outand 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 thatuses accountability and long-term treatment to address the root cause ofimpaired driving: alcohol and substance abuse."

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

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

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

While sanctioning negative behavior is necessary, JudgeTaylor says it's just as important to reward positive behavior, like advancingto 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 andrewards.

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

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

"I went to rock bottom. I mean I went further down, and I'msteadily climbing up," Harmon said. "The sun shines every day. You just got toallow it. You got to notice it. You got to notice the birds singing, and Inever did that [before]."

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

Harmon says his second stab at sobriety proved moresuccessful because he finally committed to quitting. He now hopes to makeothers understand that, too.

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