HAMILTON, Mont. - A new court program is being started to break the cycle of addiction, crime and incarceration.
It's a revolving door for many people who go into the system, with rates of recidivism as high as 80% in Ravalli County.
To implement a different approach to combat alcohol and drug abuse problems, District Court Judge Howard Recht created Ravalli County's first treatment court.
"We were essentially seeing what I categorized as a merry-go-round, where people would violate the law, get charged, get thrown in jail, get released, go back to using, get thrown back in jail, get new charges, and around and around and around it went," Recht explained.
There are key ways this program is different. Instead of jail, there is intense therapy for mental health and substance use disorder. Participants are drug tested twice each week, and they have to talk one-on-one with the judge to try and get to the reasons behind their actions.
Former District Judge Greg Pinski used to oversee the state's largest treatment court and started the veterans treatment court in Great Falls.
He explained how treatment courts uniquely hold participants accountable.
“I really got to know the individuals that were in front of me," he said. I mean, they were a part of my life and I was part of their life every single week for 18 months or longer."
It takes at least a year and a half to complete.
Right now, seven of the 20 participant spots are filled. Folks with prior violent offenses aren't considered.
The program started just this year, so there are no stats on success yet.
However, the Montana Supreme Court reported in January 2021, recidivism rates in treatment courts across the state were 31.8% for a three year span.
The Ravalli County treatment court is funded through a federal grant and costs tax payers about a $100 per day.
Now, the court is looking to raise more money to help incentivize its participants with things like gas cards, groceries and family ice cream dates for different achievements.
Donations can be sent to:
Treatment Court Coordinator
21st Judicial District Court
205 Bedford St.
Hamilton, MT 59840