Impaired-driving diversion court program provides path for renewed lives, safer streets

Note: This story was amended to reflect the correct amount of a grant from ODOT to the B-SOBR program. The grant is for $125,000.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Judge Les Rink, right, discusses the impetus behind the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery program, for which Jennifer Rivas, left, serves as case manager.Judge Les Rink comes across as calm, compassionate and invested in improving the lives of defendants — those convicted of repeat intoxicated-driving offenses — who come before him.

“You look great — stronger and healthier than you have in a long time,” he said to a young man in the city of Beaverton’s Municipal Courtroom on Thursday afternoon, June 6. “I see that you’ve been steadily employed as an electrician.”

It’s a little disconcerting, then, when Rink reads the defendant his Miranda rights — to remain silent and to consult with an attorney — as he reprimands him for missing a scheduled urine analysis test. Supervised screenings for alcohol and drugs in the bloodstream are among the conditions of remaining out of jail and in the court-supervised diversion program.

Just when you expect a bailiff or officer to swoop in, slap handcuffs on the guy and haul him off to jail, Rink gazes thoughtfully at him and issues his sentence: two and a half hours of community service work by July 18 at the Oregon Food Bank.

“If a person self-reports a violation, there will not be any jail time,” Rink explained to the court about the honor-based system. “There might be a sanction, but there won’t be jail time.”

Explaining that a traffic-snarling wreck on the freeway prevented him from reaching the testing site before it closed, the defendant immediately accepted the judgment.

“I’ll do the two and a half hours,” he said, noting he would turn in a urine sample later that day.

When Rink asked, the man said he’d been sober since July 16, 2012, eliciting applause from his 16 fellow participants.

And so it goes — one client at a time — for the next 90 minutes in the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery, or B-SOBR, special court.

Funded by a $125,000 Oregon Department of Transportation grant, B-SOBR is geared to the treatment of individuals whose drinking or drug use is beyond their control and who continue but drive motor vehicles. The three-year grant, which extends to 2015, covers the salary of court Case Manager Jennifer Rivas, home visits from Beaverton police officers and other related costs.

The program is based on the premise that true alcoholics and addicts who drive illegally require a different type of attention than the occasional drinker who has a lapse in judgment and gets pulled over one time.

“As jail won’t cure alcoholism, and there is no realistic way to keep automobiles out of reach, the public is best protected if the alcoholic recovers,” Rink wrote in the B-SOBR mission statement he presented to the City Council in late 2011. “B-SOBR is a program of intense supervision that rigorously applies proven principals of treatment and insists the alcoholic recover.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Defendants share updates of their treatment progress with Judge Les Rink during the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery diversion court program for repeat impaired-driving offenders last Thursday during the program's monthly court session.

Tough but fair

Rink championed the program as a unique municipal court variation on similar county-level approaches in Multnomah and Clackamas as well as other jurisdictions around the country in the past decade or two. Rather than sentencing a second- or third-time offender to jail time, after which she is highly likely to go back to the previous pattern of abuse and driving, the court offers a strictly controlled opportunity to change a life for the better.

“The standard process for a court dealing with a DUI case is to follow the law, in which legislation sets out a recipe of things that need to be ordered and accomplished by a defendant — rigorous requirements,” Rink said. “Some people don’t respond adequately, and repeat again and offend again. These are the most dangerous ones.”

Although most of the current B-SOBR court clients are well dressed, articulate and appear mild-mannered and responsible, they have, in most cases, spent years wrestling with addiction, psychological turmoil and highly unstable or even violent family lives.

“We’re dealing with people who can’t stop drinking,” Rink said. “If they’re awake, they’re probably intoxicated, day in and day out. The likelihood of hurting you or your family members is great. They need close supervision. They need a change.”

Tim Kempton, prosecuting attorney in the city’s Municipal Court, sees the program as a common-sense approach to enhancing community safety.

“We don’t want this to be seen as a soft-on-crime measure, because it’s not,” he said. “It’s the opposite of that. It’s a tough approach. Everybody who’s doing this program is committed to it. They’re doing more than they have to than if they just caved in and said, ‘Sanction me harshly, and I’ll be done.’ ”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - City of Beaverton Prosecuting Attorney Tim Kempton follows the cases of participants in the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery, or B-SOBR impaired-driving diversion program.

Goodbye and hello

During the monthly court sessions, Rink will occasionally turn to Rivas to ask particulars about a case or offer a philosophical or historical aside to the court, but mostly focuses his attention on the client before him.

Most of the news defendants shared with the judge on Thursday was good: job and educational prospects coming through, steps reached or revisited in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, random visits from Rivas or a police officer finding little or no cause for concern. And in all cases this time around, another 30 days of sobriety with no reported relapses.

Rink encourages participants to write autobiographies and testimonials outlining their experiences and read them in court.

One participant, who asked that her name not be used in a news story, has been sober now for 64 days. Working in a call center and mother of a young daughter, the woman read a “goodbye” letter to alcohol as part of her AA-based first step: admitting defeat over the substance and bidding it adieu.

“Goodbye, Alcohol. You’re no longer welcome to be part of my life,” she intoned. “I love the feelings you gave me, but you poisoned, polluted and possessed me ... I know you’ll never change. Without you I can do so much better. Goodbye and good riddance.”

Responding to Rink’s question about the job of her dreams — “realistic dreams,” he clarified — the mother said she aspired to be a graphic designer.

“If you win this battle,” Rink said of her climb up the recovery ladder, “the rest of it is going to be fairly easy.”

Seeing so many signs of progress a year and a half into the program took a good deal of diligence and tenacity, admitted Rivas, a former addiction treatment counselor. In their first 90 days in the program, participants are required to attend two AA meetings a week, wear a detection bracelet on their ankle, find a sponsor and a job, or at least seek work opportunities through nonprofit organizations such as WorkSource Oregon.

“I know if they have a drink,” Rivas said of her role in monitoring bracelet-wearers. “That’s one of the biggest deterrents in the whole program for people who can’t stop drinking.”

For some court participants, finding steady work is considerably more challenging than it is for the average Jane or Joe.

“We’ve got a few felons who have some barriers for employment,” she said, noting an instance when Rink sentenced a defendant to 20 hours of community service to give him positive experience. “He had a job by Monday.”

One case at a time

Despite his soothing demeanor and personal approach, Rink tolerates few, if any, slips or variations from the program’s established rules and expectations.

The purpose of out of town trips must be explained in detail, justified and accompanied by an agreement to wear a monitoring bracelet. In some cases, as in an insurance sales job one B-SOBR participant was offered in Vancouver, Wash., Rink will — with a simple turn of phrase — dash a client’s hopes. The daily commute from Beaverton, the judge reasoned, provided too much risk and temptation to drink and drive.

“You and I have an issue,” Rink said to the middle-age court client, now working as a salesman in a home supply store. “You have a job you would like to take, and I’ve consistently said no. I need you to clear this from your list of desires, at least for the time being.”

What may seem like an unnecessarily tough and counterproductive decision, however, is really just an example of Rink taking the long view of addiction recovery and life reconstruction.

“We have people who still live in family environments that hopefully can be saved by what we do here,” he said before Thursday’s court session. “What was destroyed can be repaired. People once again are getting visitation time with their children, or getting a job when they never had one. People have really launched their boat into the waters of life.”

Kempton, who along with Rink and Rivas, help comprise the eight-person team behind B-SOBR, said the program is clearly making a difference by keeping dangerous drivers off the road while repairing scarred and sometimes shattered lives.

“We’re really working hard at this, because it’s so nice to see a step away from conveyor-belt justice,” he said. “This program concentrates deeply on one case at a time.

“People are seeking to overcome this disease,” he added. “We like it because it keeps people safe.”

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