W4Y: Sobriety Courts in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Nearly 50K misdemeanor DWI cases have gone through district courts in Arkansas between 2014 and 2016. Of those 8K defendants were on their second or third offense.

Instead of just putting the offenders behind bars, some courts have started to focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration through year-long sobriety court programs. 

A day at court typically doesn't  close with guitar strumming and speeches,  but Judge Susan Weaver's sobriety court isn't typical. 

"Here I stand before you, 549 days sober," said Heather Brummet. 

Brummet graduated from sobriety court in August.  She was arrested in 2016 for DWI before leaving a restaurant parking lot  with her 5-year-old daughter in the backseat. Her second DWI came just two years later. 

Instead of sentencing them  straight to jail, sobriety court gives those on their second or more DWI, a chance to plea into a year long program with built-in accountability.

"I feel like she's looking for any and every excuse "

90 individual 12 step meetings in just 90 days. along with therapy six times a month, court twice a month and zero tolerance if they catch another charge in the meantime.

"We can actually keep a watch on them, keep them off the streets, keep them sober for a longer period of time," said Faulkner County District Judge Susan Weaver. 

According to the National Highway Safety Office in 2015, 254  crash deaths in Arkansas, nearly 50 percent, involved someone driving over the legal blood alcohol limit.

"If you look at 25 participants and 20 of them could actually be out drinking by now if they just went and served their jail sentence. They would already be out. So here, they're stuck with us for another year," said Judge Weaver. 

In the state of Arkansas there are just 12 sobriety courts for its 75 counties. Adding to less than 800 across the country. 

"If we sat here and said everybody was successful, we would be lying, " Judge Weaver said.  

On this day, three more joined Heather and 18  other sobriety court graduates. 

"This is real life. Everybody in this program was given a second chance to change their lives because I know it changed mine."

The remaining 17 currently in court have their weeks of recovery ahead  where they'll have to prove that they're not just singing the same song - different verse. 

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KARK Working 4 You is committed to highlighting issues that are important to Arkansas. If you have a story that needs to be covered, call Reporter Marci Manley on the Working 4 You Tipline at (501) 340-4448 or email at working4you@kark.com.


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