MDUI Courts in Colorado Offer Alternative to Prison

Stephanie Stout April 11, 2015

In 2009, select counties in Colorado, including Larimer County, began planning for participation in a start-up program aimed at reassessing the way the criminal justice system deals with repeat DUI offenders. The state established the first DUI courts as an alternative to the cycle of incarceration and release for those who have a long history of drunk driving charges. The courts have strict requirements to keep participants engaged, and not everyone qualifies to be a part of the program.

Emphasis on Accountability

Colorado's DUI courts were based on the model developed by the National Center for DWAI Courts. The program emphasizes treatment for participants and accountability. Each person who goes through the program receives an individualized treatment plan and a case manager. Participants attend individual or group therapy and treatment sessions, as well as regular court sessions to update the supervising judge about their progress.

People going through DUI court are required to take urine tests regularly to allow program officials to test for alcohol. They must also pay the fees for their mental health services, as well as costs of testing, a strategy intended to keep participants invested in succeeding.

Participants can receive gifts as incentives for meeting program goals, such as gift cards, and may be penalized when they fail to meet the program's requirements, for instance by failing a urine test. Penalties can include staying a few days in jail.

DUI court participation contains a community service component, which is aimed at helping participants build community connections. The program also assists participants in bolstering job skills and addressing transportation issues they may have due to losing their driver's licenses.

Eligibility for DUI Court

Not everyone who receives a DUI conviction is eligible for DUI court. The first group of participants in Larimer County DUI court was limited to 25 when it began in July 2010.

Unlike drug courts that aim to intervene in people's lives early in their use, Colorado's DUI courts are limited to serious repeat offenders. Officials wanted to try to reach people who have not had success in traditional probation situations. Those looking to be a part of DUI court need to demonstrate a serious willingness to change, or they will not be allowed in the program.