Seven participants of the Liberty County DUI court graduated from the 24-month program in a ceremony held at the Liberty County Justice Center on Friday morning.
Graduates’ friends and family members packed a third-floor courtroom for the ceremony, presided over by the Honorable Leon M. Braun Jr., Liberty County State Court and DUI court judge.
Before handing the graduates their diplomas, Braun delivered introductory remarks. He explained how the program works and detailed what participants must do in order to graduate.
According to Braun, offenders facing their second DUI in five years — or third or more DUI in their lifetime — have the option of spending six months in jail or enrolling in the DUI court. If the defendant chooses DUI court, they still are sentenced to six months’ jail time, but the sentence is suspended and eventually dropped after successful completion of the program.
Braun said that the program is not simply an easy way out for DUI offenders, mentioning the “hug-a-thug” moniker that some people use to refer to the DUI court.
“It is one of the most difficult things that you will ever do in your life,” he said.
DUI court participants must meet a number of requirements, and failure to do so will result in a sanction. If a participant gets too many sanctions, they may end up serving the six-month jail sentence before starting the program all over again.
DUI court requirements include attending group counseling several times a week, plus individual counseling sessions as needed; attending substance-abuse meetings weekly; attending court every other week to speak face-to-face with Braun; submitting to random drug and alcohol screenings; gaining/keeping full-time employment; earning a GED; and paying all fees associated with reinstating a driver’s license.
In addition to these requirements, DUI court participants must pay $50 per week to cover their counseling fees.
Braun emphasized that the DUI court program works to rehabilitate participants rather than simply punish them with jail time.
“If you opt to go take the six months, you go in jail for six months and when you come out, you’re still an alcoholic,” he said.
Braun also informed the audience that he and his DUI court staff do not receive extra pay for their DUI court duties, stating that they do it simply because they believe the program works.
“Once I got into the program and accepted the fact that, you know, I really did have an alcohol problem,” program graduate Darrell Campbell said. “It’s just been a good experience … (the program) is designed for us, you know, to help us be a better person in life, help us get through the problems we have.”
Fellow DUI court graduate Nell Brennan also spoke about the program’s effect on her life. She said that she opted to participate in the program because she couldn’t afford to do six months in jail, as she was pursuing her college degree.
Brennan said that it was because of the DUI court that she was able to successfully complete her education. She graduated from Armstrong State University in May with a degree in biology.
“The first couple months were hard, but after a while went by, I started noticing something,” Brennan said. “I was doing better in school, my relationships were getting better, I was becoming reliable and I was happier. And it was then that I realized that the sober life was the better life for me.”