DUI Court Sees No Recidivism in Graduates

By Beacon Staff

Since its inception in 2009, Kalispell’s DUI court has graduated 20 of its 39 participants, and six are still working toward finishing the program. While those stats are important to founder and municipal court Judge Heidi Ulbricht, there is one number that stands out above the rest: zero.

“Of the 20 that have graduated, none have been rearrested for a driving-under-the-influence violation,” Ulbricht said in an interview last week.

Ulbricht presented these figures to the Kalispell City Council during a DUI court update on Nov. 7. At the same meeting, the council unanimously approved accepting a $97,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation to pay for the program.

DUI court operates under the Kalispell Municipal Court and is a long-term commitment consisting of weekly court appearances, probation officer home checks, weekly visitation with probation officers and random drug tests. The program lasts about 14 months.

Participating in the program is voluntary, Ulbricht said, and 13 participants have withdrawn since 2009. But those who choose to pursue this post-sentencing track are subject to more intensive treatment, the judge said, which includes a chemical dependency evaluation and a program specially tailored to their diagnosis.

“The participants are ready and willing to stop using drugs and alcohol and achieve sobriety,” Ulbricht said. “The intervening factor is the arrest.”

Participation isn’t free; there is a $500 program fee, which must be paid along with any court fines and restitution resulting from DUI sentencing, Ulbricht said.

The DUI court operates along with a drug court, Ulbricht said, both of which run under the umbrella of the city’s treatment court. Drug court is paid for by a three-year, $350,000 grant, she said, and the city of Kalispell has allotted $11,500 for both.

In the DUI court program, participants work with a team of law enforcement, legal and counseling personnel, including a judge, a prosecutor, a public defender, a probation officer, a Kalispell Police Department officer, a treatment provider, and a drug court coordinator.

This system allows team members to contact one another outside of a court setting, Ulbricht said, unlike in the traditional system when these individual discussions could only take place in court. Since they are operating within a team, it is not considered ex parte communication, Ulbricht said.

The team uses web-based case management software, so everyone is aware if a situation arises, she said.

January will mark the beginning of the fourth year for Kalispell’s DUI court. Now in her 18th year as a judge, Ulbricht said she started the program in 2009 because she had seen traditional methods of handling DUI offenders fail time and again.

“After 14 years of being a judge, you knew putting someone in jail with a chemical dependency issue wasn’t going to be a deterrent,” she said.

The judge pursued grant funding from MDT, which has paid for the program since it began. Kalispell’s DUI court was one of the first implemented in the state, along with a program in Billings. There are now five DUI courts in Montana, Ulbricht said.

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