A few years ago, the Centre County DUI program was launched to try and rehabilitate third time offenders of DUI. Some Centre County residents oppose the program and simply want to put third time DUI offenders in prison and throw away the key. While I think that some prison time is probably required to act as a deterrent, I also beleive that the DUI Court approach to mandating an intensive treatment program is more effective.
Centre County DUI Court Eligiblity
In order to be eligible for the Centre County DUI Court program, a person had to be charged with a third offense of DUI with the highest rate of alcohol, which meant the person was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of a 1 year incarceration, $2,500.00 fine, and an 18 month suspension of Pennsylvania driving privileges. The 1 year minimum sentence could either be served in the county facility or in a state prison, and the location of the sentence was decided by the DUI sentencing judge.
Serving a sentence in a county prison often allows the DUI offender to retain employment and remain close to his or her family and thereby allow for more frequent visitation. Also, the Centre County Correctional Facility was built within the last 10 years, so it is still a relatively new and clean facility. The state facilities are older, generally house inmates that have been convicted of more serious offenses, do not permit work release, and are often farther from the criminal defendant's family. Generally speaking, most people would prefer to serve a sentence in the local county facility as opposed to "going upstate."
Centre County DUI Court Approach - Classic "Carrot and Stick"
The current un-written rule in Centre County is that a third time DUI offender in the highest range of penalties has the option of choosing DUI Court and thereby remaining in the county prison, but, if the person does not elect DUI Court, then the Centre County judge requires that the DUI sentence be served in state prison. Clearly, the third time DUI offender is given the inducement, a "carrot", to accept DUI Court in order to serve the sentence locally, but the DUI offender is also punished by being sent to state prison for not electing to participate in the DUI Court program. I admit that I do not like the approach of punishing people for not accepting DUI Court by sending them to state prison.
While I do not fully agree with the "stick" approach imposed by the Centre County judge that handles DUI Court eligible cases in sending people to state prison, I do fully support many of the DUI Court "carrot" components. For example, DUI Court participants avoid spending an entire year in the county facility and spend a majority of the sentence on the in-home detention program along with a device that detects if any alcohol is consumed. Remaining local allows the DUI Court participant to either retain or obtain employment, hopefully rebuild broken family relationships, and become involved in the local rehabilitative community that will support the person throughout the coming years.
Centre County DUI Court - Reduced Punishment But Increased Expectations
Participation in the Centre County DUI Court may reduce some of the punishments associated with a third offense DUI conviction, but a Centre County DUI Court participant also has many requirements and conditions that are not imposed in a normal DUI case. For example, the DUI Court program imposes a much more intensive treatment plan, including regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, intensive outpatient counseling, and appearances before the entire DUI Court judge every two weeks. The DUI Court participants submit a journal for the DUI Court judge to read, and the judge discusses portions of the journal with the participant during DUI Court meetings. By seeing one another at AA meetings, counseling, and DUI Court meetings, the DUI Court participants develop a quasi-family relationship and support one another. Many of the participants develop very strong bonds and support one another through the good and bad times.
DUI Court Has Proven to be Effective
Nationally, DUI Courts have proven to be effective. The DUI Court program in Centre County is relatively new and thereby cannot be fully judged at this point, but the initial results appear very positive. As a State College DUI attorney, I personally have had approximately 10 clients enter the DUI Court program, and, based upon the positive outcomes that I have personally observed in my clients, I am a strong supporter of the program. While I truly appreciate the efforts of the entire DUI Court team, I expressly want to compliment the Centre County Probation Department's officer that handles DUI Court cases. He is very knowledgeable and understanding of the alcoholic recovery process, which makes him perfect to supervise participants in the DUI Court program. Kudos to the DUI Court judge for finding the right person to work with the DUI Court participants.
Now, when are we going to create a Centre County Drug Court to handle the felony drug delivery and distribution cases?