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How a court program is helping DUI offenders transform their lives
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Richard Fraizer is a graduate of Hall County DUI Court. - photo by Austin Steele

Richard Frazier calculated in his head all the money he’d spent on lawyers, probation, fines and the time he’d miss work. It came to roughly $40,000 to $50,000, not including the costs of any drugs or alcohol.

“Money that I’ll never see again. It might have bought me a new truck or could have paid for half my house,” Frazier said.

Frazier, of Dawsonville, was arrested in 2011 for DUI. A year into his probation, he tested positive for drugs and would eventually enroll in Hall County’s DUI Court in the summer of 2013.

At first he didn’t think he’d make it through the 15-month program headed by State Court Judge Larry Baldwin II and coordinator Katie Bruner, but he wasn’t about to go back to jail.

Frazier said he also knew time in jail wouldn’t change anything.

“In a matter of time I would have been right back where I was doing the same thing, which (would) sooner or later lead to another DUI or lead to something else that’s going to get you in trouble with the law. I got tired of giving my money to probation officers and lawyers,” he said.

Fifteen months after joining the program, he graduated and has been clean for nearly six years.

“I owe a lot of my sobriety and I owe a lot of who I am today to that program, in all reality. I also turned my life over to God about that same time, too,” he said.

Now in its 15th year, Bruner said the court has had 822 graduates since 2003. In December, there were 72 participants.

The four-phase program focuses on substance abuse treatment, counseling and heavy supervision.

“Most people didn’t get to our program just because life’s been great but they picked up drinking in college. A lot of ours have had trauma in their lives, and that’s led to getting them where they are. When you’re addressing the substance abuse, you also have to address those underlying issues,” Baldwin said.

According to a 2018 report from the Georgia Council of Accountability Court Judges, two studies were performed by Applied Research Services on recidivism. For statewide DUI courts, graduates had a 21 percent recidivism rate compared to a 63 percent recidivism rate for those terminated from the program.

“Any amount of participation in an accountability court, regardless of completion, leads to lower recidivism,” according to the report.

Similarly, participants statewide had a 22 percent recidivism rate compared to a 39 percent rate for probationers in adjacent counties who did not enter a DUI Court.

“Any crimes being committed by those individuals that complete our program — that could be even a probation violation — is about 25 percent versus those that get terminated from the program is 67 percent,” Baldwin said of the local accountability court.

When starting, participants must call a drug screening line every morning, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week, three hours of treatment per week and court every other Thursday.

The program was originally 12 months but was extended for an “after care” phase with less formal treatment but continued supervision.

“What we found was after 12 months, while the formal treatment component they’ve got a lot of curriculum and education and formal treatment, people weren’t quite ready to be completely done at 12 months,” Bruner said.

During exit interviews, Bruner and Baldwin have found the “moral reconation therapy,” or MRT, has been a big success for participants.

Frazier said the program is about making a “self inventory” where you learn about yourself and analyze the reasons and consequences of your action.

“A lot of people they just get stuck in that cycle of drugs … but during that MRT, you get to evaluate a different way to spend your time, how to make the right choices and just a lot of self-help stuff,” he said.

The MRT program and DUI Court taught Frazier he was “capable of more” if he applied himself and focused on his better qualities.

After turning his life over to God, Frazier started attending Set Free Church in Dawsonville, where he encountered other people who had turned their lives around. It is also where he met his wife, Sandra.

“It’s great when you see somebody come into the program who you can tell their life is just in turmoil and then 15 months later, they’re working. Their family life’s come back together. You can compare their mugshot to how they look today and just tell the difference,” Baldwin said.

When contemplating the future of the program, Baldwin said he would hope to fix the financial aspect.

The average DUI Court probationer paid roughly $50 per month for probation fees, $10 per week for drug screening and $25 per week for treatment fees. 

“Doing all that for some of our folks is no problem, but for someone who may have been a lifelong drinker who’s got serious health problems who’s now disabled … it’s difficult to be able to meet the financial aspects of our programs,” Baldwin said.

Some fines can be converted into community service, but that doesn’t resolve the problem for those unable to work.

Frazier himself for a time started to fall behind but was able to catch back up on the fees.

Baldwin and Bruner have also discussed separating the accountability court by gender.

“Some courts have found that that has led to more success with their female population because of that trauma aspect,” Baldwin said.