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National impaired-driving diversion leader praises Beaverton's program

Michael Kavanaugh sees city's court program as model for others


Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Judge Michael Kavanaugh, senior director of the National Center for Driving While Intoxicated courts, meets local judges John Mercer and Judith Matarazzo in Beaverton on Friday.It’s a reasonably good sign that your city’s impaired-driving diversion court is doing something right when a national leader in the field pays the program leaders a friendly visit.

That’s indeed what happened on Friday, when J. Michael Kavanaugh, senior director of the National Center for Driving While Intoxicated courts met with the Beaverton Sobriety Opportunity for Beginning Recovery, or B-SOBR, team.

Hearing about the dynamic nature of the city’s now four-year-old program, Kavanaugh visited Beaverton as part of a tour to gain and share ideas to help other courts around the country and seek a model for jurisdictions that want to start a program from the ground up.

Kavanaugh met with the B-SOBR team in the third-floor conference room of the former City Hall building on Griffith Drive that still houses Beaverton’s police department and municipal courts. Among the 12 or so team members and court officials in attendance were Jennifer Rivas, the program’s case manager, and City Prosecutor Tim Kempton.Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Judge Michael Kavanaugh talked with local officials in Beaverton on Friday.

Kavanaugh, who started one of the first stand-alone impaired-driving diversion programs in New Mexico in 1977, said a challenge to starting programs is overcoming the stereotype that treating repeat-offender DUII drivers rather than incarcerating them is “coddling” criminals.

“There is a huge reluctance on the part of many key players to take the risk of starting a DUI (diversion) program,” he said. “There’s the assumptions of the ‘soft-on-crime’ business. The programs involve some very critical positive reinforcement strategies, such as praising them and giving them rewards. This is very foreign to the general public, for whom it’s usually more about punishment for the bad deeds they committed.”

That said, Kavanaugh noted how far many programs have come, based on participants’ successes and anti-recidivism rates of those who graduate from programs similar to B-SOBR, a comprehensive, heavily monitored program designed to treat individuals who continue to drive even when their drinking and drug use is beyond their control.

The general, if not unequivocal, support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is one of the more notable signs that perceptions are changing.

“MADD doesn’t just throw out support for positive reinforcement-based programs,” Kavanaugh noted. “But these are prevention-based programs. The idea is giving 100 percent to this and trying to prevent recidivism. And we’re being successful with it.”

Participants in the Beaverton B-SOBR program agree to strict conditions in exchange for remaining out of jail: ongoing sobriety and urine tests, wearing an alcohol-monitoring bracelet, committing to Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar program, a search for employment and surprise check-ins from a police officer.

So far, the program is kept afloat with help from the city and a three-year, $125,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, which covers Rivas’ salary, home visits from Beaverton police officers and other related costs.

Kavanaugh noted the challenges in keeping diversion programs steadily funded, emphasizing the need to secure a variety of sources.

“The funding needs to come from multiple sources,” he said. “There may be temporary funds that can be converted to become part of the base of the budget ... You have to lobby for your interests.”

Noting that other jurisdictions in Oregon have some catching up to do with Beaverton as far as establishing court diversion programs, Kavanaugh expressed confidence that the B-SOBR program and leadership will serve as a model for others to follow as the stigmas of reform-based DUII programs fade and the human success stories multiply.

“I plan to go to all 50 states in the next three years,” he said. “We’re trying to find the champions, the leaders, and give them the backups and support they need.

“There are always plenty of people saying we can’t do it, the obstacles are too great,” he added. “But there have to be optimists in this world in order to get things done.”

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