Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn—A Creative Solution to Educating and Treating Those Convicted of a First-Offense of DUI
Prosecutors and state officials frequently cite statistics that show first-time offenders drive drunk upwards of eighty times before being caught. Nevermind that the data supporting these studies is slightly impossible to verify given that by definition of the studies’ parameters, first-time offenders have only verifiably driven once while impaired. Regardless of skewed statistics or biased opinions, persons accused of DUI share much in common—they tend to be good, hard-working, strong contributors to society who suffered a momentary lapse in judgment. In Colorado, this lapse in judgment can cause an otherwise law-abiding person to have to spend time occupying space in jail, which seems to be a harsh consequence for someone who is perfectly capable of learning from his or her mistake given the right treatment and recidivism prevention program.
Recently, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, implemented one such creative program. The program serves to help reduce jail crowding by treating first-time DUI offenders at an alternative location—a hotel. The program allows first-offenders to spend three-days and three-nights in an approved hotel. While at the hotel, program participants must attend alcohol education and treatment after participating in an alcohol evaluation. Although short term, the program helps conserve jail space and assists first-offenders by providing them with the education and treatment they need to be successful post-sentencing.
In Colorado, although no such “DUI hotel” program exists, many jurisdictions employ what are referred to as “alternative sentencing programs.” For first-offense cases carrying a mandatory jail sentence, these programs provide persons convicted of DUI the opportunity to serve their jail sentence outside of jail. Consequently, these programs help convicted persons maintain employment, stay caught up in school, and attend alcohol education and treatment, which increases their chance of success post-sentencing.
Critics of alternative sentencing frequently focus on how alternative sentencing programs lack in harshness, and do nothing to protect the well-being of citizens in society. Although this retributionist philosophy may have relevance for other crimes, substance-abuse based crimes require treatment focused on getting to the root problem driving the substance use and decision-making stemming therefrom. Therefore, pure punishment without a focused treatment effort will inevitably fail to reduce recidivism in DUI cases. As jails continue to overcrowd with non-violent offenders, perhaps more creative methods of sentencing first-time DUI offenders, like Allegheny County’s DUI hotel program, will begin to manifest.