Koeppen is the judge presiding over this new alcohol and drug treatment program open to eligible non-violent offenders who have pled guilty to driving while intoxicated, but there is a team made up of professionals from various agencies who are working together to make it possible, including Pathways Community Health, the prosecuting attorney’s office, defense attorneys and probation and parole.

A new court has opened in the Camden County system, aimed at reducing driving while intoxicated. A DWI Court held its first session December 22, 2017 with the goal of reducing recidivism and potentially saving lives.
To ease into the new process, one case was on the docket. The court plans to eventually work into around 15 cases.
Judge Aaron Koeppen welcomed the lone woman, a medical technician, who had already started aspects of the program, including breath tests four times a day.
During the hearing, Koeppen even set a curfew for the offender based on her work hours. Working 16-hours shifts, a curfew, time when she must be at home, was set of 9:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Koeppen is the judge presiding over this new alcohol and drug treatment program open to eligible non-violent offenders who have pled guilty to driving while intoxicated, but there is a team made up of professionals from various agencies who are working together to make it possible, including Pathways Community Health, the prosecuting attorney’s office, defense attorneys and probation and parole.
Camden County, as part of the entertainment and recreation hub of the Lake of the Ozarks, is unique in the high number of DWI cases coming through its system compared to its full time population, according to Koeppen.
While DWI re-offenders are a relatively small type in these kinds of cases, Koeppen said the courts have a responsibility morally and economically to try to reduce recidivism.
According to new Assistant Prosecutor Caleb Cunningham, one of the team members, studies of DWI courts in other states show reductions in recidivism of more than 70 percent.
What people may not realize though is the impact of re-offenders on the local economy. “Revolving door justice” costs the community in police and court expenses, lost work and more.
The program is marked by intense supervision over months in phases before eventually tapering off as the offender makes progress, according to Judge Koeppen, or alternatively relapses into bad behavior and is potentially moved back into the regular court system.
“The common theme is accountability,” says Koeppen. “It is not an easy program.”
Because the program is for people who have already pled guilty and have agreed to participate as a form of probation, the court has much more control in working with these offenders. The staff of the court is also dedicated to acting quickly in providing enforcement of the internal structure of the program. Frequent urine and breath tests are closely monitored, and with the level of monitoring, the court will be able to move much more quickly to bring in an offender who has violated the terms of the program.
“One of the hallmarks is the swiftness of sanctions,” says Koeppen, describing immediacy in terms of minutes rather than days or weeks as in regular probation.
It is by no means an easy out for these offenders, he says, and is only intended for those deemed as high need and high risk of re-offense. Offenders with a criminal history outside of the DWIs and violent offenders, such as if someone is killed in a crash, cannot qualify. Any victims of the offender would have to also sign off on the program.
This type of program is endorsed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as well as prosecutor and defense attorney organizations.
The five-phase program would typically last about 18 months, but can go no longer as necessary.
Through the course of its step-down approach, the DWI Court team aims to provide mental health help to offenders as needed, trying to help treat the underlying issues behind the bad behavior. With a very structured beginning, the program will gradually ease as professionals help guide the offender with coping mechanisms to combat the temptations that often still exist in their life and hopefully avoid relapsing.
The need for a DWI Court is something that the local court has recognized for years, but has lacked funding. Part of the program includes offenders helping to pay the cost as possible.