Osceola County to incorporate sobriety court

BIG RAPIDS — A new grant accepted by Mecosta County Commissioners on Thursday will expand Mecosta County’s Sobriety Court into a regional court.

The $248,768 state grant, awarded to Mecosta County Sobriety Court, will start a new pilot program. It will be one of four new regional specialty courts in the state.

The new regional court is set to begin in January, and will incorporate Lake, Newaygo and Osceola counties into the current sobriety court.

Mecosta County’s 77th District Court Judge Susan Grant knows all too well that many of the men and women who enter her courtroom are in trouble because of alcohol. By becoming a regional court she hopes success will continue and carry over to the other counties involved.

“We are so proud of our current program that we think this is worth a try,” Grant said. “Why limit help for people to one county when we know drinking driving is not limited to one county?”

She hopes the expansion of sobriety court into neighboring counties will continue to help people make lifestyle changes and stay out of trouble as the program has done for the current six gradates.

“Our goal is to help change lives and break the cycle of drinking and driving,” she said. “We want to help keep drunken drivers off the roads.”

Alcohol is one of the major contributing factors in many crimes, Grant said, and sobriety court replaces traditional punishment for drunk drivers with an 18- to 24-month program of therapy, mutual support and intensely supervised probation, including close supervision by a judge, followed by a conventional term of probation. The main goal is to reduce repeat alcohol offenses.

The money will enable the program to hire an additional part-time district court probation officer. Sobriety Court Coordinator Susan Guernsey will be dedicated full time to sobriety court.

According to Guernsey, court officials were approached to apply for this grant. While they were considering the regional grant, Guernsey and her team approached officials from the other counties and invited them to attend a session of sobriety court. The response was positive, but concerns arose how each county could run a similar program.

“The reason we are going regional is because not every county has the resources to hold a specialty court,” Guernsey said. “Our program appears to be working and if we can protect the public — which is a reason our team got into this work — does it really matter what county we are in?”

People who meet the guidelines to attend sobriety court will be sentenced in the county of their offense, and then referred to attend the program in Mecosta County.

The complete details of how the court will work are still being planed out, Guernsey added.

“Our vision is the possible participants will be sentenced under the same guidelines we do here for our sobriety court,” Guernsey said. “It’s still a work in progress. We believe they will do everything in there own community, but they will still come and report to me.”