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A BETTER WAY TO TREAT DUIs IN CALIFORNIA

A BETTER WAY TO TREAT DUIs

You have probably heard that the so-called “War on Drugs” has been lost. Increasingly law enforcement and the courts are recognizing that punishment does not resolve the offender’s drug addictions. New sentencing schemes are being developed that focus less on punishing the chronic drug offender than addressing the underlying cause of his or her arrest, i.e., drug addiction.

Although many people don’t put alcohol in the same category as drugs because alcohol is legal, it is actually one of the most potent drugs available. Some individuals are addicted to alcohol and it is a drug addiction even though we call it “alcoholism.”

People addicted to alcohol fill our California courts in greater numbers than other drug addicts, often on DUI charges. Unfortunately, for a person addicted to alcohol, a DUI conviction usually does not stop at one and the law metes out increasingly severe punishments for the multiple DUI offender. Granted, the law also provides for rehabilitation by mandating that the offender attend DUI classes, but as we have often heard, an addict can only work on his or her recovery from addiction if he or she wants to.

One California county is has implemented a promising alternative to punishing DUI offenders. With a grant of federal and state money, the San Joaquin County’s DUI court system has a program that identifies DUI offenders who are alcohol dependent and places these offenders in the DUI Treatment Court. The DUI Treatment Court recognizes that DUIs committed by those with alcohol dependence will only be reduced if the alcohol dependence is addressed. Those sentenced to this program are called “clients” and even though they are punished under the California DUI statutes, they also receive help with their addiction.

The program is an attempt to address the underlying problems of alcohol dependence. The key to this program is that the DUI defendant client is assigned a caseworker. And the caseworker isn’t just window dressing. The court-appointed caseworker evaluates the client in an effort to identify the reasons for his or her alcohol dependence. This might include understanding the client’s history and lifestyle as well as identifying resources that will help the client recover from his or her alcohol addiction. The caseworker is there for support and finding real and meaningful ways to help the offender recover. Often clients of this program will get therapeutic and/or housing help.

The program has been in effect since 2008 and has reported a high success rate. Recently Monterey County announced a similar program under the banner of the “therapeutic collaborative court model” based on the successful Drug Court program in that county, which not only punishes but treats the drug addict. El Dorado County, as well as several other counties in California, also have similar programs underway. These programs, which are established to address the underlying reasons a defendant commits multiple DUI offenses, show a promising approach to the recognition that punishment is often not enough to stop a driver who is addicted to alcohol from driving under the influence of alcohol.