Dawn

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on June 26th, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a post ("MADDness") that, deceptive statistics notwithstanding, two decades of MADD's more-jail-time model has not worked in dealing with the drunk driving problem. Challenged to offer a better approach, I followed up with "Time for a Change", emphasizing the need to stop throwing social drinkers in jail and focus instead on rehabilitation of the relative few causing most of the damage on the highways: alcoholic recidivists. The following editorial, written by a local judge, appeared yesterday in a Minnesota newspaper:

A new county jail: If we build it, they may not come

Once again the county commissioners are being asked to consider whether taxpayers should pay for a new jail.

We have all the prisons and jails we need; we just have to learn how to use them more wisely. And if we build a new one, we better be careful it fits in the 21st century, not the last. There are outside forces beyond our control that are already affecting Winona and the criminal justice systems across America….

The judge then listed a number of considerations, including:

 
The 'lock them up, build more jails' solution to crime has failed and run its course. Reason: We can't possibly catch and lock up all the bad people, and even if we could, we can no longer afford it. When some states pay more for incarceration than education, something's wrong.
A new principle is evolving: If we fear them, then we must lock them up to protect ourselves, not to change them ' we have more than enough prisons to house the dangerous. If offenders simply make us angry, and they will return to live among us, then we must find other ways to deal with them and to change their faulty belief systems and/or addictions that keep getting them in trouble with the law.
We've known for years that locking up offenders for rehabilitative purpose fails, in fact it often makes them worse. The National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Dept. of Justice concluded in 2000 that not a single study of official punishment found any consistent evidence of reduced recidivism. They found punishment increased criminal behavior by 0.07 percent.
DUI laws are now being challenged as failures. DUI laws are justified, but the way they are being implemented fails. DUI laws over-punish the social drinker (majority of Americans) and fail on the alcoholic high-risk multi-offender. The same National Institute of Corrections study found 'those under the influence of chemical substances' to be resistant to punishment. Yet our Minnesota laws require long-term mandatory jail sentences for repeat offenders, who are most likely alcoholics; needlessly filling our county jails. There is a reason many states are diverting repeat DUI cases to drug courts.

A Wisconsin study by its Department of Transportation (2004) found a third of the people convicted of DUI were repeat offenders; that those convicted of DUI drive 200 times for every time they get caught. They estimate 21,000 cars a day in Wisconsin are being driven by someone over the 0.08 BAC limit. That equates to about 18,000 a day for Minnesota. An impossible task for law enforcement.

My observations and opinions for what they're worth:

Courts of the future must change from what hasn't worked to what has shown to be more effective. Trials will remain the same, but upon conviction the prosecutor, defense attorney, correction staff and the judge will be obligated to find a 'problem-solving solution' to the offender's problem ' unless the offender poses a danger to society, then prison must be considered.
County jails will hold only people for trial and those considered dangerous or a flight risk. Jails will be used for short 'shock' time to enforce accountability. No longer will county jails be considered rehabilitative, thus freeing up cell space…

The dawning of reason.

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