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Nearly 30 years ago, the first drug court opened its doors with a simple objective: rather than allowing members to cycle through the system, and become part of the incarcerated community, DUI, Drug and Specialty courts found a better way to rehabilitate, not to incarcerate. They are in your community and you need to be aware of the good they are doing.

Community-Based programs provide rehabilitation of participants and their addiction, by allowing offenders to stay out of jail and providing an alternate recovery program to fit their needs.

This is a benefit for the participants by allowing them to be active members in society as well as productive members of the community instead of a number in the jail systems. Statistically, Specialty courts are a better program for selected individuals than incarceration and reduces recidivism. In comparison to imprisonment, these programs also reduce the cost to communities.

Hill County DUI/Drug Court is a Specialty court which opened its doors in 2012, and joined the rest of the nation in celebrating progress and accomplishment through continued grants from the Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. DUI Courts provided by the Department of Transportation combat the rising problems of impaired drivers with a diagnosis of substance use disorder, while Drug Courts provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance focus on judicially involved offenders with a diagnosis of a substance use disorder.   

Through these two courts Hill County offers a holistic approach by providing high need/high risk participants with an intensively monitored and supervised program while they undergo a rigorous and structured rehabilitation process.

The Hill County DUI/Drug Court partners with community organizations to provide safe and stable housing assistance, food, clothing, substance abuse counseling, access to self-help/peer groups, mental health evaluations and counseling, mental health medications, medically assisted treatment, medical care, cognitive rehabilitation therapies, parenting classes, career building opportunities, educational assistance, relapse recovery services and continuation of care options to assist not only during the process, but after. As a provider, the DUI/Drug Court returns law-abiding, healthy and self-sufficient members back into the community.

Not only is this a quality of life program, it is a life jacket program when your options are limited and you are downing in your own substance abuse disorder.

As a positive note, in 2013 a participant was accepted into the program, based upon charges of his third DUI. This offense was considered an aggravated DUI due to the high level of intoxication. He entered the local 24/7 program where he failed to appear only once with a minor sanction. When he requested alternate methods of monitoring his judge recommended a program to fit the need - participation in DUI Court. He fit all the requirements, where the options of treatment and jail-time would be suspended if he was accepted and successfully completed the program.

In the year and a half that followed, he followed the program by attending group therapies, weekly drug court and counselor sessions along with other resources to remain sober. With lots of hard work he rose through the tiers and graduated from the program in 2015.

Currently he is attending Montana State University-Northern taking a double major in Criminal Justice and Community Leadership, projected to graduate spring of 2020. With a little persistence and recognition, he is now a Community Compliance Intern for the Hill County DUI/Drug Court program working with the same people that helped him get back on his feet and find direction.

There are thousands of Specialty court success stories nation-wide. This one belongs to me. I will celebrate six years of sobriety this November, and I couldn’t have done it alone!

Darcy J. Azure is a Community Compliance Intern with Hill County DUI/Drug Court in Havre, Montana. He is a full-time Native American Student double majoring in Criminal Justice and Community Leadership at Montana State University.