RIVERDALE — Wendy Hobbs, 481. Anthony Muir, 479. Crystal Davis, 255. Paul Barnes, 193.
To the four recent graduates of the Riverdale Substance Abuse Court, the number of days they have been sober or clean is just as important to them as their name. When they sign a roll or introduce themselves, that number is right alongside their name.
And for John Gallegos, the first graduate of the court program nine years ago, the number is 3,497.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve done in my life,” said Davis, who entered the program in August 2010. “But it feels great to be sober, to wake up without a hangover. Sobriety is the best thing for you and everyone around you.”
“I’ve been scared straight through this program,” said Hobbs, who entered the program in 2010. “I am grateful this happened to me, that it kicked me in the butt. Drugs and alcohol are scary things.”
“I figured I couldn’t do it my way anymore,” said Muir, who entered the program in November 2010. “This is a huge accomplishment for me.”
For all four graduates, completion of the program meant termination of probation and reduced charges as agreed upon at the outset of their participation.
Adults with drug- or alcohol-related misdemeanors can either volunteer or be court-mandated because of high risk factors to participate in Riverdale’s program, said Joan Dailey, Riverdale drug court coordinator.
The average age of offenders in Riverdale’s drug court program is 27, according to a 2009 study conducted by Scott R. Senjo with Weber State University’s criminal justice department.
It can take participants a minimum of 12 months to complete the program, with an average of 14 months, Dailey said.
Since 2005, the Riverdale Substance Abuse Court has had 106 participants, 62 of whom have graduated. In 2011, 12 people entered the program. This year, the number is 14.
Participants are subject to random drug testing and take part in support groups and counseling.
And compared to other programs, this one seems to be working.
“This is the longest I’ve been clean in 15 years, or half my life,” Barnes said. “I’ve been in a lot of programs, and this one is the best.”
From 2004 to 2009, only three DUI participants reoffended during their treatment.
Dailey estimates that 10 percent of drug court graduates have reoffended, while the recidivism rate of those who have not been through drug court is 50 percent.
These numbers are the cold, hard measurables that Riverdale city officials revel in. It is why, even in times of financial stress, the city continues to fund its substance abuse court to the tune of $25,000 annually. Other funds come from state and federal grants.
“We have a serious commitment to the Riverdale Substance Abuse Court,” said City Administrator Larry Hansen.
And graduates appreciate those funding commitments.
“The money spent on me is not in vain,” Davis said.
“We have received funding from the city and state,” said attorney D. Michael Nielsen, one of the graduation speakers who said he recently completed a similar program in Davis County and had his charges dismissed.
“A lot of people would kill to get in this program. This is the most successful treatment we have, for a good price.”
“In times of lean, Riverdale has stepped up and allowed the program to continue,” said Judge Reuben Renstrom.
“Without the continued support of the city, we would not have this program. Show your gratitude by never taking a substance again.”
Riverdale City Attorney Steve Brooks said drug courts used to be more popular until the Legislature changed laws in 2009 that removed the option of doing pleas in abeyance for DUIs.
“Drug court’s effectiveness far exceeds that of the usual ‘throw someone in jail’ sentences used by traditional courts,” he said. “They do take more time, far greater supervision and a judge willing to devote the extra time required, but they are effective.”
Riverdale has just such a judge in Renstrom, and three others before that. The judges volunteer their time to oversee the program.
“This is one of the most enjoyable things I do as a judge,” Renstrom said. “This is a completely different situation, the personal touch. I get to see these people evolve.”
He said he has seen those in the program endure many struggles, including unemployment, homelessness and custody battles during their fight to stay off drugs and alcohol.
But the outcome, Renstrom said, is worth it.