OWI courts are proven to keep drunken drivers from reoffending.
As recently reported by Daily Herald Media, Circuit Court Judge Jay Tlusty and others are advocating for a drunken driving court in Lincoln County. This is a proven cost-effective method for reducing the cycle of repeat drunken driving, and I urge Lincoln County to steer down the right road.
North central Wisconsin will be well served to take advantage of this rehabilitative court model: saving precious taxpayer money, keeping Lincoln County roads safer and changing the behavior of addicted individuals to make them productive, law-abiding citizens.
Clearly, traditional sentencing has had little effect on the behavior of repeat operating while intoxicated offenders in Lincoln County, in Wisconsin as a whole and throughout the country. These individuals are unable to change because of an addiction to alcohol. They must be held accountable for their actions, but we also must address the underlying cause of their behavior by mandating that they receive intensive, long-term treatment.
This approach is not an experiment. There are more than 600 OWI courts nationwide, including eight OWI courts in Wisconsin, and two drug/OWI hybrid courts. They are an extension of the drug court model, the nation's most successful and cost-effective criminal justice intervention for substance abuse. Nationally, drug courts return up to $27 for every $1 invested.
OWI courts are "accountability courts" designed specifically for repeat offenders. Accountability is brought to bear by a team of specially trained court professionals. Participants are regularly tested for alcohol use and required to appear weekly in court. They receive incentives for doing well and sanctions for not living up to their obligations to themselves and their communities.
But accountability is only half the strategy; participants also receive individualized, long-term and rigorous treatment. This combination of close supervision and intense treatment has been proved to get repeat offenders to stop drinking and driving. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that repeat OWI offenders graduating from OWI courts are up to 65 percent less likely to be rearrested for a new OWI offense.
Judges have seen firsthand the "revolving door" of repeat offenders and the negative effect it has on families. The devastation is evident every time children of drunken drivers appear in court to face their own charges. Nationwide, incarceration ignites repercussions for families and communities. Statistics show about 70 percent of kids who have a jailed parent will at some point end up behind bars. Children of an incarcerated parent may also end up in protective services or have mental health issues like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
We live in tough economic times with limited resources. We must invest in programs proven to work and provide a return on investment. OWI courts are the only viable solution to stopping a cycle of repeat drunken driving.
Now is the time for the residents of this county to benefit from the most important criminal justice reform of our lifetime. I strongly encourage Lincoln County to follow the lead of eight other jurisdictions in Wisconsin and create an OWI court. Only then will we put the brakes on repeat drunken driving.