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Recovery Court is marking 20 years

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Fifteen months of sobriety after decades of substance abuse was enough to show Charles Dorsey that Recovery Court works.

Dorsey was cited for drunken driving after crashing his motorcycle in June 2015. Faced with jail time or Metropolitan Court’s Recovery Court program in February 2016, he decided to sign up. He’s been sober since.

And on Thursday – months after completing the program – he was back in court to sing the program’s praises at a ceremony celebrating the its 20th anniversary.

“We in the recovery court aren’t bad people trying to become good,” he said, “we’re sick people trying to become well.”

Participants are repeat DWI offenders, who voluntarily enroll in the program, which usually takes a year to complete, rather than serving a jail sentence.

Initially, the court requires weekly check-ins, but with success those check-ins decrease to once a month. Participants must take part in counseling and they’re tested regularly for drugs and alcohol. They’re required to maintain employment or complete 28 hours of community service each week. Infractions lead to sanctions ranging from community service to jail time.

Upon graduation from the program, their DWI sentence is suspended.

Chief Judge Edward Benavidez boasts that of the 290 participants he’s overseen in nearly three years, only four have reoffended. And he said on top of minimal recidivism rates, the program saves taxpayers more than $2 million a year, by keeping defendants out of jail. Often, he said, participants tell him they wish the program was available when they’d gotten a first DWI citation, because it would have helped them avoid a second or third.

“Everybody in the public (asks), ‘What do we do about DWI’s? Tougher laws, tougher laws,'” Benavidez said. “The answer’s in treatment. It’s obvious.”

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