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|4th JDC launches alcohol court|
Ouachita Parish is home to a court that focuses strictly on Driving While Intoxicated offenders thanks to grant funding secured by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office.
Judges, law enforcement officers and 4th District Attorney Jerry Jones unveiled the new DWI court Monday morning during at a news conference at the Ouachita Parish Courthouse annex building in Monroe.
The district attorney's office helped obtain a $300,000 grant to run the new court for the next three years. It will be combined with an existing drug court, which is overseen by 4th Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman.
The drug court has existed for the past 10 years, treating drug offenders in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.
"This year we added a DWI component to it, which is a component we've been working on for years," Jones said. "Now we have this three-year grant to help us not only treat drug offenders but alcohol offenders, too."
"Judge Marchman will run that court in conjunction with the drug court," Jones continued. "We think this is a great thing for the community because it gives us an opportunity to treat people who are chronic alcoholics. We think it's the best way to handle a chronic problem and try to keep the streets safe."
Marchman agreed, while thanking crediting Jones for taking the lead to establish a DWI court.
"Jerry is really the one who got this going and his persistence in pursuing the funding really made this become a reality," Marchman said. "Most places in the state don't enjoy the same support for their drug court like we do from the district attorney and our law enforcement."
She said despite what some people may think, drug and alcohol court is not an easy program.
"In many places in the state law enforcement takes the attitude that it's a reward to get into drug court and it's an easy program," Marchman explained. "That's not the case here in the 4th Judicial District, so we're very please to have the support from the district attorney and law enforcement."
Indigent defender Sadye Bernheim Liepelt said there have been some great success stories concerning people who have been treated through the drug court.
"This is a very intensive program, rehabilitative in nature and when they get out, they become contributing members of the community," she said.
Roy Baas, clinic manager for the drug and alcohol court's treatment center, said the program is designed to treat the "worst of the worst."
"They have to be a chronic offender to qualify for this," Baas said. "There's a lot of folks who would rather go to prison than go to drug court."
"It's not an easy ride; that's for sure," Baas added.
Jones agreed that drug and alcohol court is not the easy way out for offenders. They have to show up for court three days a week, and they have to take their screening tests without exception.
"Many people would rather take straight probation because that's easy … you just hope you don't get caught," Jones said. "But drug court is very difficult because you are monitored very closely by these folks."
"It's my opinion that alcohol is as dangerous, or more dangerous, than any other drug out there on the street because it's widely consumed," Jones added.
He said out of the thousands of people who die of substance abuse each year, more die due to alcohol poisoning.
Drug court has enough funding to treat 130 clients in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes. Marchman expects to take on another dozen clients with alcohol court.
In order to participate in drug or alcohol court, an offender must be recommended for it by the district attorney's office. A panel of treatment experts then decides if the offender will be accepted into court. Judges give the final authorization.
Marchman said the treatment program specifically looks to help people addicted to drugs or alcohol, so people charged with selling drugs would not be eligible for drug or alcohol court.
The program is designed to treat offenders for a minimum of three years.