Heartfelt words of gratitude are ringing throughout DWI courts all over the country. I was particularly moved by Krista Heckman’s story and words as reported in the Denver Post. "I'm here, I'm alive, I'm healthy and for the first time in years I know what a normal person feels like." Like most participants in DWI court, Krista had multiple DWI arrests and wasn’t able to break the dangerous cycle of drinking and driving without the close supervision and intense treatment provided in DWI court. Now she is thankful to be in the first graduating class of the Denver County Sobriety Court. Before an audience of 150 friends, family, judges and prosecutors, Heckman said through tears, "Hallelujah, keep it up, and thank you for saving my life."
December is Impaired Driving Prevention Month and DWI courts everywhere are holding graduation ceremonies to promote awareness that the holiday season is the most dangerous time to be on the roads. Statistics show 25 to 28 people are killed in drunk driving crashes per day on average in December.
But it’s not just the graduates sharing mixed emotions at DWI commencement ceremonies. Judges, like Bradley Lunsford, in Centre County, PA have to say goodbye to people who have become a part of their lives. Judge Lunsford reads journals submitted by DWI participants and has conversations with them about their families and jobs, their struggles and their sobriety. “The graduates are people I’ve been with for a couple of years,” said Judge Lunsford, “I’ve seen them at their lowest and now at their highest. I’m very much going to miss them.”
DWI courts are sometimes described as part punishment, part treatment and part therapy. But I believe there is an added magical ingredient. What makes DWI courts work are the personal relationships formed between participants and judges, lawyers, treatment providers and probation officers. It is a necessary lifeline for most offenders enabling them to put their dangerous addiction behind them.
As I prepare to ring in the New Year, I want to personally congratulate 2012 DWI court graduates nationwide and salute to the success of DWI courts everywhere that are saving lives. Have a safe and happy holiday.
David J. Wallace is the Senior Director of the National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC). As director, he raises awareness on the success of DWI Courts; provides training, technical assistance, and research to DWI Courts; and establishes new DWI Courts nationwide. He has appeared in numerous broadcast, print and online publications and is recognized as the nation’s preeminent expert on DWI Courts and sentencing alternatives for DWI offenders. Before joining the NCDC, David was the Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor (TSRP) for the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM). As a TSRP he instructed prosecutors and law enforcement officers in Michigan, and across the country, on prosecuting impaired driving cases and vehicular homicides. David is a former Calhoun County Assistant Prosecutor with more than 15 years of active trial experience. He started out as an assistant prosecutor in Eaton County in 1985. After five years, he moved to the Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office where he stayed until October 2000, when he then took on the challenge of the Traffic Safety Training Program at PAAM. As one of the first TSRPs in the country, he developed a program that became a role model for TSRPs nationwide. He became the NCDC Director in February of 2008.