POCATELLO, Idaho - May is the 25th anniversary of National Drug Court month and today a special graduation ceremony is being held at the Bannock County Courthouse for those people who have completed the DUI Drug Court program.
For most people, strolling into work every single day becomes mundane and routine, but for program participant James Heer, he said he is just thankful every time he gets to come into work and put on his Butterburr's t-shirt and hat, knowing he has had a second chance at a new, sober life.
"I feel that this program is not just a 'need' but also a 'want'," Heer said. "It is the toughest thing I have ever done, period...It has changed my life and completely revamped the way I think, act and ultimately gave me an option for life."
Meeting Heer, his calm demeanor and hardworking attitude would never have people guessing he is part of this program. But he said if it weren't for the second chance given to him through this program and through his new employer who took a chance on him, he would have never learned how to change his lifestyle.
DUI Court Judge Hon. Robert Naftz said DUI offenses are a big problem here in Bannock County, and he sees a tremendous number of repeat offenders who stand before him each month.
But while preventing someone from driving under the influence is the age-old daunting task lawmakers have struggled over since the prohibition era, keeping repeat offenders out of the system while saving taxpayers is doable.
"This program is community-based and provides community rehabilitation and care in order to have these people still be able to maintain jobs in the community and maintain their lives in the community while still being in a very structured program," Naftz said.
In order to qualify for this voluntary program, the offender must live within Bannock County, have had at least two prior DUI or felony convictions, and could have gone through the program before. The participants also have to go through a series of evaluations to ensure they are high-risk individuals who can still make it through two-year program.
This past legislative session, state lawmakers passed new legislation which aims to reinvest in the justice system, reducing costs thrown into state prisons and instead putting that money toward community-based programs.
Since then, Naftz and the state judiciary has been working with lawmakers to make this happen while still lowering the cost for taxpayers.
He said the state allots $3,500 per participant per year to go through the program, so it costs about $7,000 for each person to complete the two-year cycle.
This is significantly lower than the $45 per day it costs to house one inmate in a state prison. Multiply that by 365 and you're looking at $16,425 which is more than double to cost to house an inmate for only one year in a state prison versus sending them through the program.
"They are still taxpayers while they are here and productive people within the community so it does make a huge difference," Naftz said.
He said it's more effective than being thrown into the prison system, which lowers both the incarceration and recidivism rates.
"You not only meet with a judge on a regular basis, but you also find that people care about your recovery and your rehabilitation and you are doing it within the community. You are staying in the community in which you live while learning how to do things in life without drugs and alcohol," Naftz added.
He said nationwide, 75% of the people who complete this program have never felt the cold slap of the handcuffs ever again.
So, while this program effectively reduces the number of repeat offenders, preventing the issue altogether is a whole new mountain to conquer.