Before he was a journeyman electrician with hopes of earning a master’s degree and starting his own company, Bo Burkdoll’s drugs of choice were meth, cocaine and anything with alcohol in it. His first run-in with the law was a misdemeanor, but a handful of probation violations led him back to the courthouse — and, ultimately, sobriety.

Burkdoll was offered an option for individuals needing a second, or maybe third, chance, those whose legal issues are determined to be the result of drug addiction that can be treated instead of strictly punished.

His next step was Problem-Solving Court, a program that combines intensive treatment and counseling with judicial oversight. He graduated from the 7th District’s program just last week.

“I never would have gotten sober otherwise,” Burkdoll reflected.

Jacob Henderson, the district’s Problem-Solving Court coordinator, explained the program, also called treatment court, is “an alternative to traditional justice.”

“There’s a real shift in how we view crime and how we view reparation for that,” he said. Rather than incarceration, treatment court programs target the trauma, drug abuse and mental health issues that often result in criminal behavior.

However, Henderson said Problem-Solving Courts don’t just serve people with possession charges, but other charges that often result from drug-motivated behavior such as theft, assault, dealing, and menacing. Treatment court participants are still supervised by probation officers and can face consequences for mishaps. They are also responsible for public service, fees, and fines incurred through the court system.

“It’s not a free pass, there are high expectations,” Henderson explained. And, if participants continue criminal behavior, the road will lead to prison.

Henderson said each treatment court is catered to fit the community it serves, which on the Western Slope means realizing alcohol is as much of a drug, which can lead to serious criminal behavior, as any illegal substance that may do the same.

“It’s not just the heroin user,” he said. “It’s not just the meth user.”

The program consists of phases, and Henderson noted in the beginning, that just managing to stay sober for 30 days is a big accomplishment. What actual treatment looks like can look different for each participant, depending on their individual needs. The judicial district works with medical partners and service providers like Advantage Treatment Centers, which operates the community corrections program in Montrose, and Axis Health System to offer behavioral and medical treatments and programs.

Brittnee Turner, a certified addiction specialist at Advantage, said her company provides therapy services to clients to help them challenge negative thinking patterns and develop skills to better cope with daily stresses.

“It’s just a lot of collaboration, talking with probation, talking with judges,” she said of working with the treatment court. “It’s really cool to see (participants) grow and blossom.”

This collaboration is one reason Samantha Peel, substance use disorder supervisor at Axis, enjoys working with the program. She described the treatment approach as “evidence-based combined with trauma-informed therapy and patient-centered goals.” Each patient is evaluated individually and may get treatment ranging from medication-assisted therapy to wean them off drugs to group sessions and intensive outpatient treatment.  Peel said she hopes to break the stigma around mental health issues and drug abuse, and believes she can make a change by working with the Problem-Solving Court clients.

“Working with treatment court is one of the best things that I get to do,” she said.

While the program helps participants learn new skills for a sober life, participants can’t stay forever. Eventually, like Burkdoll, they will graduate and have to put these skills to use. “We’re a big safety net until they graduate, but then folks have to decide to continue on this path,” Henderson said. He added that participants can make lifelong connections while participating, and said alumni groups offer support for graduates. The program usually lasts between one and two years, Henderson said.  Burkdoll began his treatment in late 2021 and was one of three participants to graduate from Montrose and Delta Programs this spring, leaving the two programs with about five participants each. Burkdoll noted that staying sober isn’t always easy, but said he works to surround himself with different people now and has met close friends through treatment court.

I just have to set healthy boundaries,” Burkdoll said.

Sometimes, he said, “Good people make stupid choices.”

And when those choices are criminal, they have to face the consequences. But Henderson hopes programs like treatment court will address issues in a way that halts criminal behavior and drug use, rather than recycling people through a prison system.

This article originally appeared in The Montrose Daily Press on May 19, 2023. View it here.

You’re only going to change when you want to change, and you’re only going to change as much as you want to change. I went in not caring but quickly learned my motivation and investment into all ATC offered me would lead me to success