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Grant to supplement sobriety court program in Royal Oak

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published October 20, 2020

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ROYAL OAK — On Oct. 12, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved a Michigan Drug Court Grant Program contract for the 44th District Court, which serves Royal Oak and Berkley, in the amount of $77,000 for the period of Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021.

The district court plans to use the grant, which it has also received the last two years, to fund the hiring of another probation officer and to supplement its sobriety court program.

Judge Derek Meinecke and Judge Jamie Wittenberg host sobriety court on Tuesday and Friday mornings, respectively.

Meinecke said that when he first took the bench in 2013, the program consisted of fewer than a handful of participants; however, it has expanded into one of the largest and most active sobriety court programs in the region.

“We are now capable of hosting up to 100 individual candidates, and the work we do in our sobriety court program is unique,” he said. “One of the challenging things about our program is the realization that relapse is part of recovery and it requires patience from probation officers, judicial officers and the candidates themselves.”

Because of the program’s emphasis on problem-solving and community, Meinecke said, it has bred success in an environment where, historically, recidivism rates were high.

“We’re approaching 200 graduates,” he said. “Now, with the drug court grant going into its third year, we’re able to supply an additional probation officer.”

Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier said he felt the grant is “absolutely essential” to helping those suffering from addiction.

The 44th District Court, due to COVID-19, now streams its hearings virtually for the public, including sobriety court proceedings, on YouTube.

Newly appointed Royal Oak City Commissioner Brandon Kolo said he intended to watch five minutes of sobriety court but ended up watching half an hour because it was “so engaging.”

“It felt more like a group therapy than a punishment. You could see the positive benefit in people’s lives and not cast them aside as not worthy or not having any value,” Kolo said. “They’re perfectly capable human beings, great employees and, more important than that, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and productive community members.”

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