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Becker joins WE in new DWI court

After the success of participating in Drug Court, Becker County has a new partner and is on the verge of starting a DWI Court.

White Earth Nation has been operating a DWI Court with Mahnomen County for two years and has approached Becker County about the same operation.

Becker County Attorney Gretchen Thilmony said discussions started in the fall of 2013, and the entities involved, now with the backing of Becker County commissioners, are continuing to implement the program.

Tuesday the commissioners approved moving forward with implementation and approved out-of-state travel for multiple people who will be involved in the court to specialized training in El Paso, Texas.

Those involved include Thilmony, District Judge Joseph Evans, Assistant County Attorney Kevin Miller, City Prosecutor Karen Skoyles, Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Gerving, Human Services Chemical Dependency Counselor Heather Penfield and Department of Corrections Agent Jodi Kulik.

The training cost is covered through a White Earth grant.

Miller said the DWI Court concept is fairly new but Otter Tail County operates one.

“Success rate is good,” he said. “Recidivism is down 50 percent or more.”

The court will serve about 10-15 people when it is fully operational, though it would start out much smaller than that. White Earth would be responsible for their residents taking part in the program, and Becker County would be responsible for the remainder of the county participants.

“Forty percent will be White Earth members if statistics run true,” Miller said.

The court would “provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary response to the repeat DWI offender that breaks the cycle of addiction and crime through accountability and improved access to services,” the attorney’s office presented to the county commission Tuesday.

“It’s a voluntary court,” Thilmony said. “We don’t force people to go into (the program).”

Those who do participate will serve a much shorter portion of their jail sentence – about one-third of it – which could be a plus for the county since the lack of jail space has been an ongoing issue.

“There’s incentive to cooperate and to keep themselves out of jail,” Miller said.

Thilmony and Miller said that all agencies involved won’t need any extra funding except human services because of the added chemical dependency assessments.

Human services, Miller said, “will feel a different pressure than the rest of us.”

The Becker County Board unanimously supported the DWI Court and the out-of-state travel for training.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.