Thursday, October 11, 2007

Drunk Driving repeats get counseling in California

California Drunk Driving Criminal Defense Lawyers info

Repeat California DUI / drunk driving offenders are being offered counseling services at the Sacramento County California jail in what officials said is the first program of its kind in the state.

Saying stricter enforcement of California DUI laws isn't enough to deter recidivism among those who drive drunk, officials with the state Office of Traffic Safety, the Sacramento police and sheriff's departments and area hospitals last month began offering services to inmates at the jail who were brought in on drunken driving charges.

Of the 58 repeat offenders contacted since Sept. 1, just one declined.

"If you look at the measurements, increased fines and jail time does not change behavior," said Dr. Leon Owens, the director of trauma care at Mercy San Juan Medical Center and one of the catalysts behind the program.

Owens, who lost his son in an alcohol-related crash in 2002, said similar counseling services are offered in hospital emergency rooms throughout the country but that the Sacramento jail program will "get to drivers before they injure themselves or someone else."

Drunken driving fatalities have risen nearly 50 percent in California over the past five years, statistics show. The Sacramento region has among the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes and California DUI arrests in the state, officials said.

Last month, 553 people were arrested in Sacramento County on drunken driving charges, said Marcia Hager, a counselor from UC Davis Medical Center who is conducting the interventions. For more than a quarter of the inmates, it was at least their second arrest on such charges.

Hager said repeat offenders who agree to speak with a counselor complete a questionnaire that aims to identify where they are "in terms of risk of repeating or having a crash."

"At that point, I ask them, 'What do you think? Do you want to change?' " Hager said. "They often have that 'ah ha' moment where they say they did not know they had a problem."

Before leaving jail, offenders are given a referral for alcohol treatment.

The two-year program, funded by a $500,000 grant from the Office of Traffic Safety, will be evaluated by researchers at the University of Michigan. Follow-ups will be conducted with offenders six months and then one year after arrest, and evaluators will investigate whether there has been a decrease in drunken driving fatalities and crashes, California DUI arrests and repeat offenders.

The counseling services are being offered in conjunction with a program that began in January that allows for the temporary impound of repeat offenders' ve- hicles. Sacramento Police Chief Albert Najera said the rising number of drunk driving fatalities shows there is a need for "strong law enforcement coupled with prevention and intervention."

"We have random fatal violence being perpetrated against our community everyday," Najera said. "It's violent crime just like anything else, and we are going to save lives in our community (with these programs)."


Sacramento County averages between 500 and 600 California DUI arrests each month. Last month, 553 people were arrested.

• 72 percent of those arrested in September were booked for the first time on California DUI charges

• 8 percent were facing charges for the second time

• 20 percent were booked for at least the third time

• 77 percent of those arrested were men.

Figures courtesy of Marcia Hager, counselor with UC Davis Medical Center