Problem-Solving Court is court of last resort for drug and alcohol offenders |

Problem-Solving Court is court of last resort for drug and alcohol offenders

Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan was in the Eagle Masonic Lodge to tell local Masons about her Problem-Solving Courts. May is Problem-Solving Court month.
Randy Wyrick| |

By the numbers

Of the 145 people who have completed Eagle County’s Problem-Solving Courts, only 11 percent returned jail.

Nationally, 75 percent of those who complete programs are not re‐arrested.

That saves up to $13,000 for every individual.

The return is $27 for every $1 invested.

It costs between $32,000 and $35,000 to keep someone in jail for a year in Eagle County.

Problem-solving courts cost $5,600 per person, per year.

The Fifth Judicial District has four Problem Solving Courts: Two DUI Courts in Lake and Eagle counties, and two Drug Courts in Summit and Eagle counties.

The Fifth’s DUI Courts have a graduation rate of 75 percent.

Drug Courts have a graduation rate of 52 percent.

Both are above national averages.

These courts have been running since 2009 & 2010 in the Fifth Judicial District, and since 1989 nationally.

What you do

In Judge Katharine Sullivan’s Problem-Solving Court program, Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, all clients follow four basic steps:

1. They spend time with the judge.

2. They understand incentives and consequences.

3. They’re part of a strong treatment program.

4. They’re monitored for drug and alcohol use.

It’s a little like school. It starts on time. If you’re late you can get detention, except detention is across the hall at the Eagle County Crossbar Hotel.

You miss a group meeting, you go to jail.

You lie to the judge or her team, you go to jail.

You’re caught drinking, you go to jail. You have to put together 365 straight days of sobriety.

Across the country

2,966 treatment courts are in operation in all 50 states, plus US territories

150,000 substance‐addicted individuals are helped each year.

Since 1989, these courts have touched more than 1.4 million lives and saved billions of tax dollars.


Treatment court schedule for May 2016. The public is welcome to attend.

May 6: Lake County Sobriety Court, 9:15 a.m., Lake County Justice Center

May 11: Eagle County Drug Court, 2:30 p.m., Eagle County Justice Center

May 13: Summit County Recovery Court, 10:15 a.m., Summit County Justice Center

May 18: Eagle County DUI Court, 2:30 p.m., Eagle County Justice Center

May 20: Lake County Sobriety Court, 9:15 a.m., Lake County Justice Center

May 25: Eagle County Drug Court, 2:30 p.m., Eagle County Justice Center

May 27: Summit County Recovery Court, 10:15 a.m., Summit County Justice Center

Eagle Masonic Lodge

For information about Eagle’s Castle Lodge 122, go to, or call 970-328-6919.

EAGLE — It’s Graduation Day in Eagle County’s problem-solving court.

One man had shown almost no emotion through the entire process. Stoic, reserved.

Judge Katharine Sullivan was giving her graduation speech, wishing her graduates well and reminding them that recovery is a never-ending road.

She turned, grinning from ear to ear, to face her graduates.

The man was sobbing.

“I’ve never graduated from anything in my life!” he said.

Masonic family

Judge Sullivan found herself in Eagle’s Masonic Lodge, talking about her problem-solving courts. She runs two, one for alcohol and one for drugs, along with handling a full docket every day. Sullivan’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all Masons, as well as members of the bar in her native New York state. They passed their Masonic apron down from generation to generation.

May is National Drug Court Month

There are two doorways into Sullivan’s courtroom: the big wooden doors to the Justice Center hallway and freedom, and the small metal door that leads to the jail.

Of the 145 people who have completed Eagle County’s problem-solving court, only 11 percent have landed back in jail. For those who don’t, recidivism tops 50 percent.

“Incarceration does not benefit a community,” Sullivan said. “People go into jail with issues, and come out of jail with issues. Nothing changes.”

Program graduates often return to encourage people going through it now.

“When I got here, I had given up on life,” said Ashby Capito, a program graduate. “This (problem-solving court) is the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Sullivan launched Eagle County’s Problem-Solving Court in October 2009, after being a judge for more than a decade.

“You get to see someone change before your eyes,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan can be a force of nature, and like all such forces you’d better be prepared to meet it. Each week, clients in problem-solving courts get a few minutes with the judge, who will ask them to tell her something good that happened to them because they were sober.

You’d better be prepared with an answer.

The programs have reached the federal level.

“I believe this is where the entire system is headed,” she said.

The 5th Judicial District has four problem-solving courts in three counties — Eagle, Lake and Summit.

“The work isn’t done until the people who need sobriety find it,” said Judge Jonathon Shamis, Lake County Court judge.

It’s not for everyone

It’s not for everyone. Violent criminals need not apply, and it’s not for first-time offenders.

They take a team approach. Sullivan is the team captain, and is joined by jailers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, counselors and several others — all volunteers.

Clients have lots of eyes on them as they learn life skills, such as how to write a resume and land a job.

“People need to get up and be somewhere, doing something productive,” Sullivan said.

All that creates stability, and stability tends to get people back on the right track, Sullivan said.

The right track runs like this:

• 365 consecutive days sober.

• Complete 12-step programs.

• Keep a job.

Some people can complete the program in a year, but you have up to two years.

“I don’t do things a little bit. We hold that bar high, and people will meet that bar,” Sullivan said. “If we set the bar low, people will meet that too.”

Alternative to incarceration

Problem-solving court is officially called Adult Intensive Supervision Probation, and it’s sort of the court of last resort for drug and alcohol offenders.

Addiction can happen to anyone. One of Sullivan’s graduates earned her master’s in international business and worked in Afghanistan.

Some resist joining the program because they want to keep their addiction a secret.

“If you’re at the point of getting into my program, it’s not a secret. You may think it’s a secret, but it’s not a secret,” Sullivan said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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