Repeat Drunk Driving Offenses: Longer Prison Terms or Better Treatment Programs?
New Mexico, a state known for its Native American culture and natural beauty, is also known as one of the states with the worst drunk driving records in the nation. New Mexico has been struggling with how to get a grip on the increasing problem of repeat drunk driving offenses. Some, including Governor Susana Martinez (R), believe that the best way to combat the growing population of repeat offenders is to increase penalties. This includes longer prison terms and seizure of the offenders’ vehicles.
Others, like Linda Atkinson, director of the DWI Resource Center in Albuquerque, believe that the best method is to use a frontend approach by providing adequately funded alcohol treatment programs. One thing is for sure: As tough economic times continue and states persist with their budget cuts, both methods face the hurdle of gaining approval of the state legislature.
Some Call Into Question New Mexico’s Repeat Drunk Driving Fatality Statistics
For the past 20 years, New Mexico’s fatal traffic accidents caused by repeat DUI offenders have been in the neighborhood of about 30 percent. Now, in just a two-year time span, the number has practically doubled to 58 percent. This leap in the numbers has caused some to question whether or not the research and statistical analysis have been done correctly.
Steven Flint, the one-time director of the state’s Traffic Safety Bureau (TSB) stated: “It sounds more like an artifact of how it’s being measured or whatever measurement tactics they’re using rather than something real.”
Flint believes that because the numbers have been stable for so long, a true jump of such proportions is not possible. However, Mike Sandoval, the present director of the TSB, assures the media that all measures were taken to guarantee the validity of the statistics.
Funding for Treatment and Drug Courts Has Diminished
Others believe that the numbers are absolutely correct and say that it makes perfect sense that the rates of repeat DUI offenses causing deadly crashes have skyrocketed so rapidly in such a short period of time. The vice-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee explains, “The timeframe in which these numbers are going up correlates to the timeframe when the state was pulling back on drug and alcohol court funding and was pulling back on treatment.”
At the same time, a rep for the DWI Resource Center reports that increasing prison terms won’t help because the judges don’t currently enforce sentencing. The center believes that the present penalties are fine but that they can’t work if judges allow for minimum sentences and lawyers negotiate plea bargains and reduced jail time.
Do you think that treatment, drug courts, and enforcement of the current penalties would be enough to drive DUI death rates back down? Or do you think stricter sentences need to be put on the books? Tell us your opinion below.