JONESBORO — A Craighead County specialty court can now put its money where its mouth is and provide more treatment for those who are found guilty of driving while intoxicated.
Northeast Arkansans who commit alcohol- and drug-related DWI offenses are often referred to Sobriety Treatment Accountability Recovery (STAR) Court if they have no violent criminal history, said Heather Owens, assistant attorney for the City of Jonesboro. The misdemeanor offenders are contacted within 30 days.
STAR is a 12-month science-based program aimed at rehabilitating the participants, rather than punishing them, she said. Since 2011, nearly 69 percent of the 90 participants accepted into program have successfully completed it.
“You can put them in jail for 30 days or 90 days but if they don’t get any treatment, they’re going to be back on the road doing the same thing,” District Court Judge David Boling said. “The people we’ve had in there when they successfully graduate, they have a job. They have a relationship in their life that they have repaired, whether it’s with family, spouses or children. … It’s hopefully providing a safer road for you and me to be on.”
All of the staff, which includes district court clerks, city attorneys and Jonesboro police officers, donate two to three hours per week to run the program. The county’s budget was amended to include a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs to be dispersed over three years, funding the specialty court.
“We have operated on a shoestring budget for as long as I’ve been involved with the court,” Owens said. “We now have to funds to hire a full-time court coordinator because staying on top of all of the participants, as well as treatment requirements, probation requirements, all of the requirements through each phase of the handbook is pretty significant.”
The money will also be used to expand its reach, increasing its cohorts of 10-15 participants to those that include 20-35 offenders, she said. STAR Court can also do “much more efficient and frequent” drug and alcohol screenings.
In addition to combating recidivism, or the likelihood of reoffending, the goal is also to promote healthy life choices and a crime-free life beyond driving under the influence, Owens said.
“With STAR Court, we’re able to identify people with drug and alcohol issues, get them into treatment while also preserving continuity in their private lives,” she said. “They’re able to go to work, stay with their families and deal with the issues at the root of the problem instead of just punishing them for bad choices.”