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Butte DUI Court chooses treatment over punishment for repeat drunk driving offenders

BUTTE – “I want you to do four extra groups. Remember we had the incident two weeks ago? That you admitted to,” Butte DUI Court Judge Jimm Kilmer said to one of the program participants.

The court would prefer to deal with repeat DUI offenders like this rather than like this – sending them to jail.

“If we don’t provide a way that they can change their behavior through treatment, we can incarcerate them and they’ll come out of incarceration without any treatment. And (what) have we accomplished,” asked Kilmer.

For 10 years this special court has been helping repeat drunk driving offenders get their lives back together through an intensive, yearlong treatment-based program.

“It’s harder to do a DUI Court program than it is just to take your lumps with your DUI,” said Butte Deputy County Attorney Mike Clague.

The program involves random breathalyzer tests to ensure sobriety, requires clients to attend treatment groups like AA and to perform community service.

“I believe it’s a success, I believe we have cut down on the multiple offenses in Butte-Silver Bow, which are the most dangerous offenders there is, so I think we have about an 80 to 85 percent success rate,” said Butte Undersheriff George Skuletich.

It cost about $300,000 a year to run this program, but officials note that it costs more to incarcerate repeat offenders.

“The court is expensive, and we’re federally funded right now and we have some state funding that helps out a tremendous amount, but eventually Butte-Silver Bow is going to have to kick in some dollars if they want this program to continue,” said Kilmer.

For those who have been helped by the DUI Court by staying sober and staying out of jail the cost of this program is priceless.

“I feel like a totally changed person. It’s been a privilege to be in here. I’ve really learned how to change my thinking and just my whole outlook has changed,” said DUI Court participant Bill Montanye.

And confident he won’t drink and drive again.

John Emeigh

John Emeigh

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