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Editorial: DWI Court delivering recovery, big bang for buck

The DWI Recovery Court, long celebrated as a success story, reached another important milestone this month.

The program attained an all-time low recidivism rate. Specifically, only 4.2 percent of graduates go on to reoffend, down from the 5.4 percent rate that had held constant from 2014 through 2017.

That’s an incredible accomplishment and further proof that DWI court works and is making a difference in people’s lives. People like Angelo Atencio, who enrolled in the program after getting a second DWI in January 2017. He graduated from the program last week and has now been sober for more than a year.

Getting through the program takes commitment and a lot of hard work, and that’s why it’s so successful.

Participants are placed in intensive supervision, and they undergo group treatment and community-based support meetings. They are also required to show up for 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.

In short, this program forces participants to confront their demons, providing them with the tools they need to rebuild their lives and, we hope, to stay out of trouble. And if they falter, a judge is there to drop the hammer and to get them back on track.

Much of the credit for this program’s success belongs to Metropolitan Court Judge Edward Benavidez, who runs the DWI Recovery Court. Atencio is the 300th person to complete the program since Benavidez took it over about four years ago.

“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.”

Exceptional, indeed.

This is our criminal justice system at its best. Especially when you consider that it costs just $16.18 a day to participate in DWI Recovery Court, compared to the $120 a day it costs to incarcerate someone at the Bernalillo County jail.

This is clearly an effective program. Metro Court and state lawmakers should explore whether there’s a way to get more defendants into this program while still maintaining the impressive record of success it has attained.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.