Reentry and Integration Division
DWI/Drug court graduates total 104
County program helps prevent repeat offenders
Judge Tim L. Wright, Williamson County Court at Law #2, does not often see his courtroom packed with people smiling, hugging, clapping and offering congratulations, but he did Tuesday night.
This is a graduation ceremony for the Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)/Drug Court, a program that integrates local criminal justice resources, case management and substance abuse treatment to rehabilitate repeat DWI and misdemeanor drug possession offenders in lieu of incarceration. Participants in the program plead guilty to their charges and complete the program over the course of a year or more, if needed.
First launched in the fall of 2006, the DWI/Drug Court program boasts 104 successful graduates today, and Judge Wright is looking forward to teaching more courts how to run similar restorative justice programs.
In addition to the fourteen newest graduates, the court assembly Tuesday included seven previous graduates, lawyers for people graduating, friends and family members - all proud and happy to see such a significant achievement in counteracting unhealthy lifestyles.
“DWI is a societal problem,” commented Taylor Police Captain Don Georgens. “Until you deal with the addiction, they’re not going to stop driving.”
That is exactly what the court focuses on for Williamson County. According to Georgens, the frequency of DWI offenses in Taylor is lower than many other cities, but those arrested often have levels of intoxication far above the legal limit of .08. - he reports that officers see levels as high as .22.
Though the evening primarily focused on the success of those combating addictions, formal court business came first. Judge Wright addressed one new member of the program for use of marijuana and cocaine and a current member for using alcohol during the program. However, the judge also congratulated the efforts of four members of the program for moving on to the next phase of their treatment.
County Sherriff James Wilson offered the invocation for the celebration, during which he admitted that initially he was reluctant to accept the program since he witnessed the death of his grandmother on her 50th wedding anniversary due to intoxicated driving. He said that Judge Wright convinced him to support the program with proven effectiveness of preventing future offenses.
While typical probation results have a national recidivism rate of 65 to 85 percent, graduates of the Wilco program yield a re-offender rate less than five percent.
The guest speaker was graduate Jenny Petkovsek, who is now two years and two months sober and works as a teacher and coach in Austin ISD. Petkovsek was arrested four times for driving while intoxicated before being admitted into the program.
“(Getting sober is) something I couldn’t have done on my own,” said Petkovsek. “It takes a bunch of people to do it.”
Petkovsek’s first DWI occurred before she was even 21, when she decided to drive her friends home despite being drunk herself. The charge did not carry through, however, when the arresting officer did not show up at court. A year later Petkovsek was arrested again after wrecking her car and being discovered by police.
“When I got out of jail the next day, I had to get the police report and read it because I had no idea what I’d done,” she said. But that wasn’t her wake-up call. During her first year of teaching she was arrested for DWI and began to realize she had a problem but wasn’t sure how to change for good.
“I thought I could do it alone,” she said. “I had a probation officer I checked in with once a month. I would not drink a couple days before I went and met him and I thought that was a solution: be clean a couple days before, but drink as much as you want throughout the rest of the month. I did 18 months of that.”
Petkovsek’s fourth DWI led to her admission into the program and the realization that the problem was serious. Still, she felt scared and unsure how to live a sober life.
“I just wanted to do this (sober) way of life for one year,” she said of beginning her journey. “When I got done, this life that I have is better - I’m a better teacher, better friend, better daughter, better sister. Everything that I wanted to do I’m better at.”
Coming from a family where alcohol was present at celebrations and events regularly, Pekovsek had to relearn life in “the real world where people drink.” But it’s been a positive experience, she said.
“When I go to family functions now and there’s alcohol I choose not to use that, but I remember everything about the holiday,” she said. “The memories I have are wonderful, sober memories.”
Her three points of advice for the new graduates were: don’t drink no matter what, do some action that will keep you focused and stay connected to your higher powers.
“Getting sober is the easy part. Staying that way is the tough part,” said Petkovsek, adding that the graduates have the tools they need to accomplish that feat day by day. “If you do this program, it works.”
After the ceremony, the judge was excited to take the new graduates to the country club for a night of getting to know each other better as friends.
“When these people come into the program I tell them, ‘When you finish with this I’m not going to see you as someone who was a probationer in my court, I’m just going to see you as someone who came through and had the fortitude to go through the really tough, rigorous program that we put in here,” said Judge Wright. “I’m going to see you as friends instead of as probationers who successfully completed their probation.”
If accepted into the program, probationers complete an intensive period of regular counseling, court and office visits, outpatient treatment, random urine checks, Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, educational classes, curfew restrictions and the use of an ignition interlock device for their vehicles. Participants also pay fees for the program and must maintain employment.
According to the program’s Web site, the DWI/Drug Court focuses on five main areas of improvement. Participants must comply with court-ordered conditions of community supervision. There must be verified maintenance of abstinence/sobriety as well as participation in intensive outpatient treatment. Additionally, the team works to foster the development and maintenance of daily living skills and behaviors that promote lifelong abstinence/sobriety. Finally, there are regularly scheduled court hearings to apprise the judge of individual offender progress, compliance, or non-compliance while participating in the program. The program places emphasis on honesty: court responses are reduced for honest admissions of violations, while they are increased for dishonesty.
The program is not for everyone: violent offenders, individuals with a history of drug dealing, burglary or certain other offenses are not eligible.
To learn more about the program, including information regarding eligibility, visit the County Court at Law #2 section of the Williamson County Web site at www.wilco.org.