Vail Valley’s alternative RISE court helps offenders push through alcohol, drug problems
Intensive monitoring and supervision program celebrates more success with two new graduates
EAGLE — They’re on the rise, these graduates from Eagle County’s RISE sobriety court.
RISE — Recover Invest Succeed Excel — is an intensive monitoring and supervision program, sort of a court of last resort for people battling alcohol and drug problems.
Judge Rachel Fresquez runs part of it, along with Judge Paul Dunkelman.
Hundreds have worked their way through the program since it launched. On Wednesday, the court marked its 68th graduation ceremony since RISE rose in Feb. 2013.
“This program was life-changing for me,” said one of the two recent graduates in a news release. “The intensity at the beginning was good to get me on the right track.”
The right track runs like this for program participants: Stay sober for 365 consecutive days, complete 12-step programs and keep a job.
Some complete the program in a year, but they have up to two years.
An alternative to jail
RISE is an alternative to jail for eligible DUI offenders. Of the 79 people enrolled since 2013, 68 have completed the program successfully. In the three years after they finished the program, 77% of graduates have not committed another crime. Without the program, about half do, according to county statistics.
“I am able to watch participants grow in sobriety. It is very rewarding to see how people overcome challenges and develop a life without substances,” Fresquez said.
The RISE sobriety court was one of the first of its kind in Colorado; now it’s one of more than 80 problem-solving courts across the state that help reduce correctional costs and enhance long-term community safety.
Every week, RISE gathers in Judge Fresquez’s courtroom where she asks clients to tell her something good that happened to them because they were sober.
Their lives are better, participants say. For some, that bar was low, below the rim of a bottle. The climb out was hard, they say. Not complicated, just work.
Louie says he couldn’t be better. OK, his hearing could be better. But other than that, he’s good and getting better.
When their chat with the judge is done, court participants spin a big prize wheel. They can win anything from gasoline to time off their public service.
This week’s graduates, Mark and Noah, made it through the program in “very different styles,” Fresquez said.
Mark thanked everyone. “It hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile is,” he told the group.
He bought a house, he bought a business. His kids are with him. He could not do any of that when he was drinking.
“Take honest stock about why you’re in the situation you’re in,” Mark said.
There is the occasional tragedy amid the triumph. One woman fully expected to graduate this week. She did not. A test found a trace of alcohol in her system.
She sat on the courtroom bench and cried out loud, heartbroken.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day for two years, she said through a steady stream of tears.
She did not lash out, she did not blame. She just cried. She owes a couple days in jail. Those in the program with her fell on her like a blanket, offering nothing but unqualified support.