DUI Court Provides Constructive Alternative to Jail in Florida

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In Marion County, Florida, Suevon Lee of the Ocala Star-Banner shares the happy story of a DUI offender who has turned the corner with the help of a court program that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment.

Mike Kruger, 24 was enrolled into Marion County's DUI court 13-month treatment program, which is usually offered only to repeat DUI offenders who otherwise would be sent to jail. It was Kruger’s first DUI offense, but he was accepted into the program after displaying genuine eagerness to seek treatment.

In August, 2009, Kruger was arrested for DUI, the culmination of a decade of alcohol abuse that led to the loss of custody of his children. By his own admission, it was time to seek help.

"I really want this," he says of the treatment program. "I want to be sober. I want to pay my bills. I want to do what’s right by my family."

He is a year removed from his arrest and three-quarters of the way through the program, and things are turning around. In the first phase of the program, he lived in a substance abuse recovery home and was only allowed a one-hour visit with his children.

In June, Kruger and Michelle Main, his fiancée, regained custody of their children and rent a home together. Kruger is about to enter the final phase of Marion County's DUI Court. He initially made weekly appearances before County Judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams, and those visits have become biweekly, soon to be reduced to a monthly check-in.

Kruger attends group meetings, counseling sessions and is subject to random drug screenings. However, he is not in jail, and feels like the program has offered him a genuine chance at a fresh start.

It's not a free ride, however. Kruger works two jobs to support his family and pay the program’s not-insignificant costs.

"The fact that I’m never here is a direct result of my alcoholism," he says.

"He’s extremely busy," confirms Mandie Andrews, the chief probation officer with the Salvation Army Corrections Department. "That’s played a part in his sobriety as well."

According to Andrews, the program involves a great deal of restrictions, enough that it is rare for a participant to graduate without any sanctions along the way. Kruger is on the elite list, to this point in his process.

The demands are numerous: Kruger cannot leave the county for an overnight trip without permission from the probation office. He is behind on payments, which can be met via community service hours. Nonetheless, Kruger has gone after his second chance.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Anna Redgate, a community advocate who met Kruger during a victim impact panel, says he has shown remarkable candor in his effort to reform.

"When we get into trouble, it’s a natural instinct to be defensive. I saw a non-defensiveness with him that I thought was kind of unique."

Kruger appreciates the opportunity he has been given, particularly as he passes his first full year of sobriety.

"It's inconvenient, it’s hard," he says of the DUI Court program. "But it’s better than the alternative"

Source: Ocala Star-Banner


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