A Ray of Light

This recent Op-Ed piece from a New Jersey newpaper is yet another indication that maybe they’re finally beginning to get it: 


Putting drunken drivers in jail is not a solution. The reasoning behind strict punishment for “driving while intoxicated” is to prevent it from happening again. Unfortunately, despite the new Michael’s Law in January 2004, New Jersey saw a 2 percent increase in arrests for driving under the influence that year.

Michael’s Law mandates a 180-day prison term for anyone convicted of a third or subsequent driving-while-intoxicated offense. Up to half that sentence could be spent in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation hospital.

Yet, recently, Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Vineland, proposed a bill that would require these generally nonviolent offenders to spend a mandatory 180 days in jail without the option of spending up to 90 days in rehabilitation. The bill would further burden our already overpopulated jails during a budget crisis.

Making the law tougher will not work. We could, however, make such laws more effective. Alcoholism is a disease and incarceration is not a cure. And, apparently, incarceration is not a deterrent either.

Instead, the state could make money by sentencing these offenders to house arrest and make them foot that bill. Furthermore, the outdated, ineffective, 10-year license suspension is in desperate need of reform. We have about 200,000 people with suspended licenses. New Jersey could safely put these people back into the workforce and make money on their taxes by issuing time-restricted work permits and using ignition locking devices to prevent them from drunken driving.

But in the interest of vengeance, we would rather lock up a desperate group of sick individuals when jail time has not significantly lowered alcohol-related fatalies.

(Thanks to Sheri Rathbone.)

« A Ray of Light (cont’d) ABA Journal Reports on Perjury in San Diego DUI Cases »