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Federal CARE Court program in Oklahoma City is alternative to prison

CARE Court designed to keep federal defendants from returning to prison by stressing accountability; rewards for completion include reduction in supervised release

BY TIM WILLERT Published: November 25, 2012
/articleid/3731700/1/pictures/1892117">Photo - Rehabilitation signs are posted on the wall at Specialized Outpatient Services in Oklahoma City.
Rehabilitation signs are posted on the wall at Specialized Outpatient Services in Oklahoma City.

The woman, who spent eight months in a federal prison in Texas for harboring a fugitive, got a year knocked off her probation by completing the program.

She said she has been clean for nearly two years.

“If it wasn’t for the CARE team, I don’t know where I would be today,” she said. “They are the best support team that you could ever have.”

The June graduate credits Williams and probation officer Jeff Yowell, a CARE Court team member, for her success.

“They gave me a new direction,” she said. “They gave me positive reinforcement. They were like family to me.”

Agreeing to participate in the program, though, means a level of commitment many are not ready for.

“A year off supervised release is a big deal for us and for the court and we don’t give that out lightly,” U.S. Attorney Sanford C. Coats said. “To earn that requires a significant achievement over a long period of time.”

Saby Rubio spent 56 months of a 63-month term in a Texas prison for a drug-possession conviction. While on supervised probation after her release she was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

“I thought I didn’t have a problem with alcohol but I was wrong,” said Rubio, 42, a 2010 graduate of CARE Court.

She completed the program in one year and says she keeps in touch with Williams and visits CARE court from time to time.

“It’s got a lot of structure, and a lot of demands, but that’s what I needed after being incarcerated for five years,” she said. “I had to learn how to live in the free world again.”

The driving force behind CARE (Court Assisted Recovery Effort) Court is former U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie Couch, now dean of the Oklahoma City University School of Law.

“As a court we saw that substance abuse and addiction were really major contributors to the recidivism rate,” Couch said. “People would be coming out of federal prison and re-entering the community still dealing with serious substance abuse issues and violating the terms of their release.”

The program costs the U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City very little to administer — roughly $1,000 a year — because the funding for counseling and testing services are included in the U.S. Probation Office budget.

It is a small price to pay compared to incarceration, which costs about $30,000 per person for a year, authorities said.

“Really, it’s not a great use of our federal resources to send someone back to federal prison because they’re addicted to illegal substances or alcohol,” Coats said. “We’ve got to have some alternatives for these folks. We need a stringent plan to get them off drugs, to get them assimilated back in society, to get them a job, education if they need it.”

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