When Platte County began the first DWI Treatment Court in the Kansas City metro area nearly eight years ago, judge Dennis Eckold and prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd were cautiously optimistic that it would be a success.
Neither one of them would have predicted that only two of the court’s 119 graduates would be convicted of another DWI.
“When we set out to plan a DWI Treatment Court about 8½ years ago, we wanted to change behaviors and drastically reduce repeat offenses,” Eckold said. “We wanted to try to get to the root of the problem. This program is sobriety court. It’s about being accountable and committed. It’s a rigorous program with many requirements. It’s not perfect, but I’m very encouraged by the results so far.”
A recent recidivism study confirms the startling success of the court. With a recidivism rate of less than two percent, the court is achieving a success rate that is nearly unheard of in criminal justice. By comparison, a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that, in 12 states including Missouri, 37 percent of people sent to prison for any crime were back in prison within three years.
“Treatment courts are an incredibly effective alternative to prison that often cut short what otherwise would become a life of crime,” Zahnd said.
He recounted meeting two graduates of the Platte County DWI Treatment Court in 2018 during Parkville’s annual Independence Day parade. Both men credited the treatment court for “saving their lives” by helping them escape the bonds of alcoholism.
“Platte County’s DWI Treatment Court changes people’s lives for the better, and that’s good for our entire community,” Zahnd said.
Platte County’s DWI Treatment Court began in 2012, and was the first of its kind in the Kansas City metro. In the years following, Platte County has added mental health and drug treatment courts. The county is now working to establish a veteran’s court.
The DWI Treatment Court is a comprised of a team that includes:
The Platte County Circuit Court
The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
The Missouri Department of Probation and Parole
Tri-County Mental Health Services
Midwest ADP (which provides probation and counseling services)
The Platte County Sheriff’s Department (which provides trackers)
Northland Alternative Service Program
Electronic Sentencing Alternatives
Tomo Drug Testing
Professor Greg Plumb of Park University
Criminal defense attorney Mark Ferguson
It is funded by the Clay-Platte-Ray mental health levy.
“The Platte County DWI Court is a great example of a highly successful community partnership,” Tri-County Mental Health Services CEO Tom Petrizzo said. “It brings together court personnel, prosecutor, defense bar, probation and treatment specialists who, in unison, create a positive lasting impact on individuals and families who may be struggling with the adverse effects of addiction.”
The DWI treatment court holds periodic graduation ceremonies, which are open to the public. The next graduation ceremony is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 in the Platte County Commission Meeting Room