ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It took Alan Micheel just two weeks of installing luminarias at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center through his court-ordered community service to land a job there as a janitor.
Before he was hired in January, he had been unemployed for three years.
Micheel, 42, is one of at least a dozen full-time employees whose community service punishments have led to gainful employment since 2009. Micheel was convicted of three DWIs, most recently in November 2010, and enrolled in the Metropolitan Court Drug Court program in December 2011, according to online court records.
Micheel had been unemployed since he was laid off when Circuit City went bankrupt in 2009. He’d worked there for 10 years.
“I’d almost given up hope in looking for work, and of course I had legal troubles,” 42-year-old Micheel said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The Metropolitan Court Drug Court program requires those convicted of two or more DWIs to perform 32 hours a week of community service until they find a full-time job or become a full-time student. Its goal is to keep offenders busy and in counseling to prevent them from re-offending, and it even offers offenders acupuncture to alleviate stresses associated with the program and their personal transformation, said presiding Drug Court judge Cristina Jaramillo.
Not only Drug Court offenders are sentenced to community service. Some offenders are given community service instead of jail time or to pay off fines and fees. In fiscal 2012, community service workers put in about 150,000 hours around the city and for area nonprofits, according to Metropolitan Court.
While Drug Court is not aimed specifically at finding jobs for those enrolled, Metro Court spokeswoman Janet Blair touted its success and low re-offense rates, which she said are just over 3.5 percent over three years.
“This is a phenomenally successful program,” Blair said. “. It doesn’t happen very often, but it’s a bonus when some of these folks do find work.”
Due to state budget cuts, the Drug Court program has seen its enrollment and funding almost cut in half in the past few years. In fiscal year 2009, it received around $700,000 in state funding and enrolled about 370 offenders. This year, it has around 215 offenders enrolled and between $350,000 and $400,000, Jaramillo said.
Peter Padilla , human resources manager at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, said the center employs two full-time maintenance workers who started there as Drug Court community service workers, including Micheel. He credited the workers’ ethic, punctuality and enthusiasm as being behind the center’s decision to offer them jobs.
“If it wasn’t for Drug Court, we wouldn’t have a fine example of a good employee like Alan,” he said.
“He was on time. Whatever assignment we gave him, he was eager to complete it to the best of his abilities.”
Nonprofits like the cultural center and Animal Humane New Mexico got about $450,000 worth of free labor from community service workers in fiscal 2012, according to the Metropolitan Court.
That doesn’t even include the Drug Court community service hours, since those aren’t calculated by the hour but are just weekly requirements.