Prison for DUI No. 3? “I Need Help, Not Jail!”

is prison for DUI the right answer?It was a small news story in Tulsa. A man arrested for his third DUI says he doesn’t need prison time – he needs help.

The man in question, Anthony Tramble, was arrested for driving at more than three times the legal limit. His previous offenses including more than one instance of fleeing the police and ramming his car into a police car.

What makes it a small news story is that, apart from the latest incident, there’s nothing to talk about except Tramble’s assertion that what he needs is not prison for DUI but to deal with his drinking.

Alcoholism is at the root of many, but not all, drunk driving incidents. Tramble believes that dealing with his drinking will be the way to stop his drunk driving. Prison alone won’t do that.

Stories like this tend to garner outrage, and there will be those who cry out for prison for DUI reoffenders like Tramble. If multiple offenders shouldn’t face penalties, they ask, who should?

There are some facts that need to be understood:

  • Prison only prevents drunk driving for the length of the prison term.  It does not cure alcoholism.
  • Oklahoma has the second highest rate of incarceration in the country, and as one would expect, prisons are crowded and the burden of the system costly.
  • The National Institute of Justice reports that within 3 years of release, two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested. This calls into question the efficiency of imprisonment as a deterrent in general.

Oklahoma does order drug and alcohol rehab programs, and they have certainly helped low-level drug offenders. But drunk driving is a unique problem, and a unique solution is needed. That solution is:

  • Sobriety (drug) court
  • Ignition interlock

A drug or sobriety court is a supervised program in which an offender is given treatment and close monitoring. The programs are known to have a high success rate – much higher than prison. An ignition interlock – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – is the other part of the equation. The devices protect the public and help ensure compliance with the program while the offender is in treatment. Since the devices record test data, case workers and probation officers can check that the offender is complying with the program.

It might be a small news story, but it raises a big question – can Oklahoma do better in preventing DUI recidivism? It can, if it leaves behind the old punishment model and gets behind the idea of a sobriety court to treat multiple drunk driving offenders.