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Juneau Therapeutic Court graduates new class into a chance at prolonged sobriety

18-month program a step in the right direction for staying sober

Posted: May 16, 2011 - 9:04pm  |  Updated: May 17, 2011 - 9:47am
Juneau Therapeutic Court graduate Mike Sutton shakes hands with District Court Judge Thomas Nave as District Court and Therapeutic Court presider Keith Levy and Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti look on at Mondays JTC 4th Annual Ceremonial Commencement.   Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Juneau Therapeutic Court graduate Mike Sutton shakes hands with District Court Judge Thomas Nave as District Court and Therapeutic Court presider Keith Levy and Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti look on at Mondays JTC 4th Annual Ceremonial Commencement.

On a day when three new DUI prosecutions were added to Juneau District Court Judge Thomas Nave’s calendar, and another dozen or so crimes involving the use of alcohol were spread among the court rooms of judges Nave, Keith Levy, Philip Pallenberg, and Patricia Collins, there were four names that instilled a sense of pride among those in Levy’s courtroom as the afternoon came to a close.

James Miller, Delbert Kanosh, Mike Sutton, and Jef Morgan were celebrated Monday in the fourth annual commencement for Juneau’s Therapeutic Court.

“This has saved my life,” Sutton said in a reception afterwards. “The good thing about therapeutic court is it gives you the tools to begin to cope with the rest of your life. There is no such thing as a cure for any of us but now I can start to live a fulfilling and positive life.”

Sutton first was in front of Levy to face a felony DUI charge.

“I am glad that I did it,” Sutton said of his DUI. “I regret it, I am glad that no one got hurt, but I am glad that it happened because it gave me an opportunity to be involved with therapeutic court. And it gave me the opportunity to change my life. I was not living well at that time, I didn’t see a way out, and I didn’t work when I tried it on my own. For others out there like me ... ask for help. It is the hardest thing to do, but once you do it is a huge load off your chest and weight off your shoulders.”

Since it’s inception in 2005, more than 48 men and women have entered and 28 have completed the 18-month program of comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment, close supervision, and full accountability Levy presides over. Of the 14 that withdrew or were discharged, three have reoffended. Of the 28 graduates only one has had a relapse.

“The people going through therapeutic court do all the work,” Levy said. “They do the heavy lifting to get where they are today, but they don’t do it without the support from the community and the therapeutic court team.”

Guest speakers Monday included Samantha Abernathy of Rainforest Recovery, recovering alcoholic Joe W., Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court Walter Carpeneti, and David Katzeek.

“This exact program wasn’t around when I needed to be sober 30 years ago,” Joe W. said. “I had a son that lived in my house and that was all I knew about him, we only passed each other when I was looking for alcohol. I took a gun out of my mouth and asked for help. Now I am glad to be here to help.”

Court alumna JoAnn Lockwood presented the award for community involvement to former graduates and community activists Cheryl Lewis and Dallas Breaux.

A defendant is eligible to participate in the court if he or she is charged with a misdemeanor or felony DUI, refusal or with multiple non-violent alcohol related misdemeanors and is assessed by the treatment provider as being suitable for intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment.

Those in the treatment program are required to enter intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment with a treatment provider; take a medicine that stops cravings for alcohol; attend Alcoholics Anonymous or other recovery meetings; appear regularly before the judge for compliance hearings; work or attend school a minimum of 32 hours a week; undergo regular alcohol and/or drug testing; maintain sobriety; and attend moral reconation therapy. Moral reconation therapy is a 12- to 16-step skills program which attempts to get participants to think about behavorial errors, according to the Washington state Department of Corrections.

Juneau Therapeutic Court is one of more than 2,400 such courts in the United States and hears cases dealing with drug and alcohol related crimes, primarily DUI offenders with multiple convictions.

With already overwhelmed court dockets, the program places offenders in an environment where they undergo treatment and counseling, submit to frequent and random drug and alcohol testing, make regular appearances before the judge and are monitored for compliance.

Sanctions including jail time are imposed for noncompliance and incentives are applied for those who complete the course.

“Gunalcheesh,” Katzeek greeted the graduates, speaking in Tlingit before switching to English. “You have completed a goal and it has taken work and effort to do that, that which was in you, you have achieved. You have sobriety in you; it is the choices that you make. You are precious. There is nobody on the face of the earth that is as special as you.”

Therapeutic court is a collaboration of the Alaska Court System, the Juneau District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender Agency, Juneau Police Department, City and Borough of Juneau, Rainforest Recovery Center at Bartlett Hospital, Gastineau Human Services, and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.

Nave said he admired the graduates.

“I appreciate the effort, dedication and perseverance each of you has exhibited over the last 18 months,” he said. “I am so impressed.”

On a national scale, drug and alcohol courts provide vast savings to the criminal justice system as 75 percent of their graduates never reoffend. If the seven graduates in last year’s court program would have opted for jail time instead of the program they would have served a combined sentence of 10 years and cost taxpayers nearly $500,000.

“I am walking out of here today a lot different than the first time I left this building,” Delbert Kanosh said. “I want people to know that this program really works if you put your heart into it and I am proud to have been a part of it. If I can do it, anyone else can do it.”

Graduates received a plaque and a copy of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a book Levy quoted as having much in common with them.

“Scrooge was better than his word,” Levy read. “He did it all, and infinitely more… He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough, in the good old world.”

Levy said the next passage was an apropos play on words.

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits,” Levy read. “But lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle.’ I hope you all do that.”

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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