PHOTO: The City of Victoria and Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach partnered to create the Court to Recovery Program for people who commit Class C misdemeanors involving drugs or alcohol. Shown from left are BTCRO Recovery Coach Veronica Cox, Recovery Coach Skip Mozisek, Clinical Director Elma Saenz, City of Victoria Municipal Court Judge Vanessa Heinold, BTCRO Outreach Coordinator Stefanie Baxley, Municipal Court Administrator Tiffany Totah and BTCRO Executive Director Daniel Barrientos.
The City of Victoria Municipal Court and Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach have launched a new Court to Recovery Program that aims to address addiction and reduce repeat offenses among nonviolent drug and alcohol offenders.
Under the program, defendants can complete a four-hour class (divided into two sessions) at Billy T. Cattan Recovery Outreach, a nonprofit that provides treatment and counseling to people who abuse alcohol and drugs. Defendants who complete the program can avoid a conviction, similar to a person who commits a traffic offense and completes a defensive driving course.
Because the court only handles Class C misdemeanors, the program is only open to defendants who have committed minor offenses such as public intoxication, possession of drug paraphernalia or driving with an open container of alcohol.
Breaking the pattern of substance abuse
Municipal Court Judge Vanessa Heinold saw the need for this type of program after noticing a pattern of repeat offenses among Municipal Court defendants who were convicted of public intoxication. Some would come back to the Municipal Court; others would go on to commit more serious crimes, such as driving while intoxicated.
“It seemed to me that some of them could be struggling with an underlying problem, and I felt that we had an opportunity to help them address their problems and make better choices in the future,” Heinold said. “Part of my job is to help build a healthier and safer community, and that includes finding ways to reduce repeat offenses.”
During her time as a Victoria County prosecutor, Heinold saw firsthand how the County’s DWI court, a partnership with Billy T. Cattan, prevented repeat offenses by helping defendants to overcome the habits and behaviors that led to their substance abuse. So, she reached out to Billy T. Cattan to discuss the possibility of creating a program for Municipal Court defendants.
Billy T. Cattan staff worked with the court to create a four-hour program covering drug education, anger management, communication, decision-making and healthy relationships.
Billy T. Cattan Executive Director Daniel Barrientos said that Clinical Director Elma Saenz developed the education program from the same nationally certified curriculum that the nonprofit uses for its outpatient substance use treatment program. Working in collaboration with Heinold, staff designed the program to ensure topics would meet the needs of the Court to Recovery participants.
Barrientos noted that in the five years since implementing the DWI Intervention Repeat Offender Program, he’s never seen any participant repeat the class. He believes the new partnership with the Municipal Court will be similarly successful in preventing repeat offenses.
“We’re excited to be able to partner with Judge Heinold to offer another program that will help people get back on track,” he said.
Support to succeed
Another benefit that Heinold discussed with Billy T. Cattan staff was allowing participants to get to know each other and develop camaraderie. Class sizes will be kept to a maximum of 15 participants, and each group will attend the same sessions together as a cohort.
“Knowing that other people are going through the same struggle can increase that sense of support and accountability,” Heinold said.
Heinold added that partnering with Billy T. Cattan means that the benefit of the program will go beyond the four-hour class, since participants will be able to learn about other resources available to them.
“When people are trying to turn their lives around, they may not know where to begin,” Heinold said. “If they are willing to put in the work, we will do our best to set them up for success.”
To learn more about the Municipal Court, visit www.victoriatx.gov/municipalcourt. To partner with the court for an outreach program, visit www.victoriatx.gov/courtoutreach.