The 8th Judicial District’s DUI Recovery Court was one of six courts nationwide selected as a best–practices example by the National Center for DWI Court, according to a May 1 announcement.
As an academy court, the 8th Judicial District’s program will be used to teach courts from around the country best practices for DUI problem-solving courts. The court will also be a part of the NCDC’s research and media.
The DUI Recovery Court has been in operation since 2010 and serves adults who have been convicted of multiple DUI offenses, mostly at the felony level. The court covers Jackson and Larimer counties in northern Colorado and is based out of Fort Collins. Since its start, the recovery court has enrolled 180 participants and 145 have completed the program, a 80.6% graduation rate.
Harry McCrystal has been the 8th Judicial District’s DUI Recovery Court’s coordinator since 2019. Prior to that, he worked as a coordinator for one of Boulder’s problem-solving courts aimed at treating substance use in cases impacting family law.
“Typically, these are people who have significant issues with alcohol and take on the program in an effort to get the help and support they need to maintain long-term sobriety,” explained McCrystal. He said on average, people referred to the court have 3.7 prior offenses related to alcohol and, on the DUI charge that brings them to the court, blow an average BAC of 0.23, 2.8 times the legal limit.
Like other problem-solving courts, the DUI Recovery Court attempts to address the root causes of repeat drunk driving. Instead of taking a sentence like probation, community corrections or even in some cases prison, eligible defendants who are accepted into the program are placed on work release while also undergoing treatment with mental health care providers. The program requires participants to stay sober and have regular check-ins with the court. While the minimum length of time in the program is 18 months, McCrystal said it takes participants on average around 20 months to go through it.
“It’s not an easy program,” McCrystal said, noting the court looks to reduce recidivism, increase accountability for offenders and promote the health of offenders and the community. “If they make a commitment to a program that’s as structured and challenging as this program is for folks, [it’s to] change their life.”
While the program doesn’t track recidivism long-term, McCrystal said 90% of graduates don’t pick up new charges within a year of completion.
NCDC is a national organization that provides resources and best practices to DUI-focused problem-solving courts around the country. A June 2018 estimate by the National Drug Court Resource Center found 278 designated DUI courts in the U.S. and NCDC selected six to serve as academy courts.
According to the organization, an academy court is “an exemplary DWI court” identified by the organization to “serve as a national model for DWI courts.” The other academy courts are in Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Montana. This is the first time the 8th Judicial District has been selected as an academy court.
McCrystal believes the DUI Recovery Court’s long-standing relationships with community partners and stakeholders in the legal system are why it stood out to NCDC.
Since 2010, the DUI Recovery Court has been presided over by the same judge — Larimer County Court Judge Matthew Zehe. McCrystal explained the consistent support and involvement of Zehe as well as other partners — including those in the district attorney’s office, the program’s mental health treatment partners and the approved work release partners — have helped the program prosper for 13 years.
“So I would say stability in leadership has been very helpful. A commitment by our agency partners to see the program succeed,” said McCrystal.
The DUI Recovery Court was also the first DUI court in the state to be accredited by the Judicial Branch’s Problem-Solving Court Accreditation Program in 2017. It was reaccredited in December 2022.
Colorado currently has 66 problem-solving courts, according to data from the Colorado Judicial Branch. These include juvenile courts, veterans courts, mental health courts, drug courts and DUI courts. Colorado’s problem-solving courts first began in the 1990s with a number of adult and juvenile drug treatment courts. The first court focused on DUI offenses to start in Colorado was in 2007 in the 22nd Judicial District. Colorado has 14 courts that specifically work on DUIs.
Looking forward, McCrystal said the court plans to stay on top of national best practices for DUI courts in partnership with NCDC. He also hopes to be able to increase the program’s capacity.
The DUI Recovery Court has a maximum capacity of 40 people, but currently has only 23 enrolled due to the impact of COVID-19 on its work release partners ability to hire participants. Scaling the program up would also require coordinating with the district’s probation officer capacity and its health care provider partners, McCrystal noted.
“That is a challenge, because, you know, it requires additional resources. But, that would be a goal,” added McCrystal.
On May 12, members of NCDC and the Colorado State Court Administrator’s Office will recognize the DUI Recovery Court’s designation in Division 1A of the Larimer County Justice Center at 11:15 a.m.