8 Years In Prison for Drunk Driving. Now 60 Days More?

prison-for-drunk-drivingImprisonment is one of the more popular law-enforcement tools for dealing with drunk driving, at least if you read the comments section or the letters to the editor. People simply don’t know what to do with OWI offenders who insist on repeating their crime again and again.

That belief was tested in Michigan recently, when a man named Christopher Villaneuva was brought into court for OWI, a third offense. It was a serious offense: Villanueva had caused a crash that injured his three passengers.

The problem was that the offender had already spent 8 years in prison for killing a teenager while driving drunk in 2001. The judge in this case sentenced him to 60 more days in jail, as well as 5 years’ probation, twice-daily alcohol testing, and substance abuse treatment. He was also fined about a thousand dollars.

Of course, his license was revoked. It’s worth noting that his license had been revoked at the time of his 2001 fatal crash.

One has to wonder what 60 days of jail will do to deter a man who was driving drunk after serving 8 years for the crime already. The implication here is that prison for drunk driving is not necessarily a deterrent. Perhaps there is no deterrent for some people, and prevention is the only way to deal with certain repeat OWI offenders.

Alcohol Monitoring – Not Enough

The alcohol monitoring is an attempt at prevention. In itself it’s not a bad idea, but alcohol testing does not actually prevent drunk driving. The two things that do are jail – but just for the term of the imprisonment, and at great expense – and ignition interlocks. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Sobriety Courts and Ignition Interlocks – Yes!

Michigan, in fact, is an innovator in the treatment and rehabilitation of drunk drivers. In various jurisdictions the state offers sobriety courts, which succeed in reducing OWI recidivism where other measures fail.

Sobriety courts involve monitoring offenders closely. Their treatment progress is noted, as is the test results of their alcohol monitoring. More important, the sobriety court ensures that an ignition interlock is installed on the offender’s vehicle, and that the data from the device is monitored for compliance.

Sobriety courts have been hailed as a magic bullet, the one solution that combines both treatment and prevention to both help the offender and protect society.

For a drunk driver as determined as this one, nothing short of a sobriety court or prison will be effective enough to protect the public. Prison for drunk driving is an expensive solution. It is sometimes necessary, but there are many OWI offenders who can become sober drivers if they are placed in the hands of a good sobriety court. We hope Michigan keeps expanding this program.

Meanwhile, we’re doubtful that the next sixty days will make more impression than 8 years did.