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Man who jumped through glass door while on acid, meth sentenced to treatment program

Court sentences man to treatment program for downtown stabbing

Woman ordered to alcohol treatment after 4th DUI

Seeing those three headlines in the Dec. 30 Billings Gazette gave readers an indication of how commonly criminal offenders are drug addicts. What really happens after a felony offender is "sentenced" to treatment?

First of all, in most cases, including the three reported on Dec. 30, the judge doesn't actually sentence the convicted to a particular program. Judge Gregory Todd sentenced these three individuals to a certain number of years under the supervision of the Montana Department of Corrections and recommended particular programs.

Generally, the DOC will assess the offenders to determine what placement (i.e prison, treatment or community corrections) is most appropriate for their crime and potential rehabilitation. The assessment includes evaluation for mental illness and chemical dependency.

The DOC has increased availability of chemical dependency treatment for offenders over the past decade. The department now has seven treatment programs, all privately contracted. However, the capacity is still lower than the needs of several thousand chemically dependent people in the system.

NEXUS in Lewistown

When DOC determines that an offender would benefit from one of its treatment programs, there's usually a wait to get in. The wait is often 2 to 3 months for NEXUS, the program Todd recommended for the stabber and the glass-crashing burglar. NEXUS is a 9-month treatment program for up to 82 men in Lewistown. A similar program called Elkhorn serves up to 42 women in Boulder.

NEXUS and Elkhorn are geared toward offenders addicted to methamphetamine, cocaine or other stimulants.

After completing intensive treatment, graduates usually are placed in a prerelease center for 200 days. Even 15 months of staying clean doesn't necessarily mean the addict is "cured." Staying in recovery requires a lifelong commitment to maintain a drug-free lifestyle.

In Montana, all felony DUI and vehicular homicide offenders are supposed to complete the six-month WATCh treatment, although some offenders have managed to avoid the treatment with trial delays and extended jail time. Once designated for the program, offenders typically have a four to six-week wait for admission.

The first three DUI offenses are misdemeanors under Montana law, so those sent to WATCh already have four or more.

WATCh for felony DUI

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WATCh West at Warm Springs has a capacity of 115 men, while WATCh East in Glendive serves 50 offenders, including men and women. Both take six months and (like other DOC treatment programs) keep the participants locked up. WATCh has reported that the majority of its graduates don't reoffend. That's remarkable, considering they all were repeat offenders.

Some WATCh graduates are referred for further supervision to DUI treatment courts, such as those led by Yellowstone County District Judge Mary Jane Knisely and Billings Municipal Judge Sheila Kolar.

Graduates of WATCh and other DOC treatment programs are supervised by the probation and parole division after they return to the community. The state has a very limited number of probation and parole officers, so each usually must supervise 80 or more offenders.

A November report to the Legislature's Commission on Sentencing stated that Montana’s prison population exceeds the state’s facilities’ capacity. The commission must address the all-too-common connection between crime and addiction in recommendations to the 2017 session.

DOC treatment programs are based on a therapeutic community model that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found to be effective in reducing recidivism. In treatment, offenders are assigned to groups in which the conduct of one member affects all. A DOC description of the programs says they emphasize to offenders that "there are others who are also suffering consequences of their individual actions — their families who are now living without a father, son, mother, daughter, etc.; the employer who is having to fill a position, and the taxpayers who are helping to pay for their treatment."

When more offenders learn that lesson, fewer will be in Montana's corrections system.

-- The Billings Gazette

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