‘Sobriety Court’ changes how non-violent crimes are handled

HOUGHTON — May is National Drug Court Awareness Month, a time to call attention to a new way to handle non-violent drug offenders.

Michigan is one of the states leading the country in use of drug treatment courts to address the high number of people incarcerated for non-violent substance abuse problems.

In 1980, there were about 300,000 people in jail in the United States. That number is now more than 2.2 million. Use of a drug treatment court, or sometimes called a Sobriety Court, is starting to make a difference.

“We’ve seen miracles. We’ve seen people turn their lives around in a 15 month program and we can look forward to continued success, that people are getting treatment for substance use disorder, that they will not reoffend, that they won’t be back into the justice system,” said Phoenix House Addictions Counselor Gail Plowe.

One of the methods is the use of an Ignition Interlock Program that will give people who have are being treated for alcohol abuse a chance to keep their driver’s license. This method shows a change in focus from a criminal justice system to a health care system, and the public should be pleased with the results.

“Addiction is a disease. It’s chronic, it’s relapsing and it is life-threatening and we can’t incarcerate our way out of this problem,” said Plowe. “We need to treat this disorder and return people to being productive citizens.”

About 50 people in Houghton and Baraga Counties are currently in the program, and hopefully on their way to freedom from the cycle of addiction and incarceration.