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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dallas County probation program addresses addictions, bipolar disorder

Kimberly Armstrong says she has run from every drug program she was ever ordered to attend. But when she was sent to one offered by Dallas County probation aimed at treating both her drug addiction and bipolar disorder, she decided to stick with it.

"It seemed like a good program. So I thought I'd give it a chance," said Armstrong, 39, who has been sober and on her prescribed bipolar medications since April 8. She said she's stayed because people working with Dual Diagnosis care about her.

"To be honest, the thought of looking the judge in his face and him being disappointed in me keeps me on track," she said. "I want to be one of the statistics that makes it. I'm doing the best I can."

State District Judge Mark Stoltz manages the courtroom portion of the Dual Diagnosis probation program with a compassionate but heavy hand. Each Monday, between 40 and 50 participants fill the courtroom to provide weekly, biweekly or monthly updates, depending on where they are in their treatment process.

His biggest rule is honesty, followed closely by accountability. One by one, Stoltz calls each person's name and talks about what has happened since they last met. Case workers, probation officers, medical professionals and a public defender all gather to provide updates to the judge for each participant.

If someone has a relapse and uses, Stoltz gives that person credit for being honest about it. But there are still repercussions. He starts with making that person write an essay. If it happens again, they get community service. And if the problem persists, he'll order jail time.

But sometimes jail is the first option. One program participant copied one of Armstrong's essays and read it in court earlier this month as his own. The plagiarism got him 24 hours in jail. [Mark Godsey]

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