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‘Failure is not an option’

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Angelo Atencio shakes hands with Metropolitan Court Judge Edward Benavidez during his DWI Court graduation Thursday. (Courtesy Camille Baca/Metropolitan Court)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Angelo Atencio has been sober for a year and 11 days, and he says it took hard work, support, court intervention to get him there.

Arrested for a second DWI in January 2017, he is the latest graduate of the DWI Recovery Court run by Metropolitan Court Judge Edward Benavidez.

“Everything that is on my rap sheet pertains to alcohol,” Atencio said. “It was not my friend at all.”

Atencio’s graduation Thursday morning comes one day after court officials announced that the program reached an all-time low recidivism rate: only 4.2 percent of graduates go on to reoffend, down from the 5.4 percent rate that held constant from 2014 through 2017.

“These results are exceptional because of the high-risk population that we are treating in the program,” Benavidez said in a statement. “Many of the individuals have struggled with severe alcohol addiction and have undergone a complete transformation with the program’s help.”

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Angelo Atencio hugs Vicki Ruiz, a counselor at The Evolution Group, which provides treatment and counseling to participants in Metropolitan Court’s DWI Recovery Court program. (Courtesy Camille Baca/Metropolitan Court)

Participants are placed in intensive supervision, and they undergo group treatment and community-based support meetings. They must attend routine court sessions during which a judge assesses progress and may impose sanctions, and they have to complete community service hours and remain employed or in school.

“I think once he realized that we had people that really wanted him to succeed, he embraced it with everything he had,” said Cecilia Perry, Atencio’s probation officer. “And Angelo has surprised all of us, including himself. And he really did focus on getting his recovery stable.”

Atencio is the 300th person to successfully complete the program since Benavidez took it over around four years ago.

The program is not solely about rehabilitation. According to Benavidez, “We want to improve the overall quality of their lives. From obtaining employment to strengthening family relationships, we provide guidance and support to help people get back on track.”

The program is voluntary and open only to nonviolent defendants who previously were convicted of misdemeanor DWI offenses. DWI offenders can also opt for jail time, which ranges from 90 to 364 days.

“Failure is not an option,” Atencio said. “I mean, it’s court-ordered. You have somebody pushing you, pushing you. You have to prove your work; you have to do the work.”

Not only does the DWI Recovery Court change attitudes and save lives, but it also saves taxpayer dollars.

It costs $120 a day to incarcerate someone at the Bernalillo County jail compared with $16.18 a day to participate in DWI Recovery Court, resulting in an annual savings of more than $1 million, Benavidez said.

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