A news report finds that Minnesota has almost 1,500 drivers who have been convicted of a DWI six or more times. More than 100 currently have at least 10 DWI convictions and a few have almost 20.
Some have probably already rushed to write their legislator to “do something” about this. But what should be done? With DWI laws there is a tension for legislators between creating punitive laws with increasing severity for every new offense, and attempting to provide a real solution for problem drunk drivers who have been charged with multiple DWI offenses.
As for the first “solution,” history has shown that for some drivers it does not work. Since DWI laws were first enhanced in the 1980s, there has been a ratcheting up of the punishment. For someone who has been convicted 20 times, it is likely they have been in and out of jail for nearly 30 years, which suggests ever more jail time is unlikely to modify their behavior.
For these drivers, alcohol use is an addiction, and jail and prison in Minnesota often provide little in the way of meaningful treatment. This means that when they leave incarceration, they are likely to reoffend.
Some may suggest, “Throwing away the key,” as a solution, but the legislature is sensitive to the growing cost of prisons. In 2010, one study found the average cost of a prisoner in Minnesota was $41,364, which is likely to have increased by 2015, and means tossing the key away is a very expensive prospect for the state’s taxpayers.
What does work is active intervention for those with substance abuse problems and Hennepin County has a DWI Court that has proven reasonably successful, with one study finding eight out nine “graduates” of the court less likely to reoffend with another DWI.
The societal goal should be to reduce dangerous behavior and help those with substance abuse problems to overcome them. Too often, this optimal outcome is viewed as being “soft” on these drivers. in fact, as this story suggests, simply arresting them is really not a very effective solution to the problem.
Source: startribune.com, “More than 100 Minnesota drivers have at least 10 DWI convictions,” Stephen Montemayor, September 20, 2015