Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Incarceration for DWI fails without treatment

In the Dallas News, Christy Hoppe has a story voicing concern that next year's budget cuts at TDCJ could wipe out already sparse treatment funding for DWI offenders, reacting to a terrible case where a repeat drunk driver plowed drunkenly into a family from Lewisville, killing a mother and daughter ("Prison budget cuts threaten treatment programs for repeat DWI offenders," April 7):
Most drunken drivers like John Patrick Barton mark time in the Texas prison system without specialized treatment, only to return to the streets and potentially to their drinking.

And with Texas facing a monstrous $18 billion budget hole next year, what prison treatment programs the state does offer may be sharply reduced or eliminated, officials said Tuesday.

Some vowed to try to protect treatment programs from the budget cuts.

"How in the world can the state of Texas lock somebody up for being a DWI offender and not spend any time trying to get them an opportunity or the ability to deal with their drinking?" asked Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairman John Whitmire.

He said he reviewed Barton's case after news of Sunday's fatal crash and was dismayed to see that he had "skated" while in prison, not receiving treatment for addiction.

"We've had him in prison twice and done nothing to treat his alcoholism. And now we have a tragedy," said Whitmire, D-Houston.

Barton was free on parole after his third drunken-driving conviction when, authorities say, he plowed into a car early Sunday in Lewisville, killing Kandace Hull, 33, and her daughter Autumn Caudle, 13, and injuring her husband and their two other children.
Sen. Whitmire has a point: The lock-em-up approach didn't work with this guy. He's been to prison twice (which means he's been convicted at least five times) and he still didn't quit drinking and driving. He's not alone, either. Texas sent 5,128 people to prison in FY 2009 for DWI, all of whom had 3 DWI convictions or more. Many, however, do their time without kicking their addiction, leaving prison as essentially dry drunks who fall back into old habits when they return to the free world. For these folks, prison in and of itself isn't changing their behavior. That's why

Marc Levin, a criminal justice policy adviser for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation research group, said he would rather mothball outdated prisons than cut treatment programs.

It is a bipartisan approach that makes sense, he said.

"You're talking about people with a severe alcohol problem. They're all going to get out. It's vital to make sure they go through a program that has a track record of being successful so they don't endanger anyone anymore," Levin said.

In many cases, the programs work, said Whitmire, whose criminal justice committee will hold special hearings this summer on DWI laws.

Texas already has some of the toughest laws on the books to fight DWI, and longer punishments won't work as well as treating someone when you have them, he said.

Whitmire said the Barton case is the example that all lawmakers looking at cutting programs should think about next session.

"This is a tragedy, but as I read the report and go back through this person's history and how the system has treated him, it's just a classic case of mishandling a DWI offender from the very first time we had him," Whitmire said.


Alan said...

I need a little enlightenment. Aside from mindlessly sounding "tough on crime," will the objection to closing prison units be losing the jobs those units supposedly generate in their host communities? If so, perhaps we could take the approach Congress did with the military base closings commission, where there was an up-or-down vote on the package and no modifications allowed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's some of it, Alan, though there are also at least two units where local communities want to close them and TDCJ is keeping them open against their objections.

Plus, TDCJ as an institution has a prison-centric culture. They see running prisons, not reforming prisoners, as their central mission.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. TDCJ has a history of cutting probation, parole, and treatment funding when asked to make budget cuts because of the "lock 'em up" mentality of the higher-ups in the agency. Yes, TDCJ is responsible for running those prisons, but they are also responsible for protecting the community, and they have a dismal record in doing so. Treatment is an option for every offender in our prisons, but they have to ask for the help, and then can only get it if there is space available. From my experience dealing with TDCJ corrections officers, the culture of the agency views treatment as a "hug-a-thug" environment and nearly 20 years after the inception of SAFPF in TDCJ, many officers still have that view of the treatment program. TDCJ needs to wake up and change in our changing world, otherwise sensational stories that drag the agency through the mud will continue and "dry drunks" and "clean addicts" will still be released onto our streets without a change in their behavior or coping skills.

Don said...

If things worked as intended, every first offense DWI would attend the Texas DWI Education Program. That's the law, (if accepts probation). Yet, I teach both the DWI Education Program (1st offense) and the DWI Intervention Program (subsequent offenses). When I ask subsequent offenders if they have had the 1st offender class, more than half of them say no. The DWI Education Program class has been shown empirically to reduce re-offending. My point being, that the system somehow doesn't even enforce these minimal programs, that, while certainly not all that is needed, at least they help. Plus, they are paid for by the offender, and do not cost the public anything. I don't know how they get through. That being said, I concur that most DWI offenders do not get any treatment or even education. The programs that they do have in prison (or SAFPF) are not great, especially for DWI offenders. What I would like to see is a rework of the whole system. Close the prisons that need closing, put more resources into something that works, and start from scratch redesigning the programs with empirically proven modalities. By the way, alcoholics who go to prison don't "fall back into their old habits". They never fell out of them; they were just unable to wet them down, for the most part. They are on their starting blocks at the gate ready to sprint to the nearest bar/package store when they are released.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

Treatment is an option for every offender in our prisons, but they have to ask for the help, and then can only get it if there is space available.
No, it's not.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, I can only speak for what happens in my county. But by the time a 3rd offense DWI offender gets sent to the pen, I can almost guarantee you that they've been to SAFPF and most of the misdemeanor DWI programs alluded to above (if their misdemeanors were committed here too). They've also been required to attend AA as a condition of probation. If they're in prison on a 3rd offense DWI, that more than likely means they've failed probation. We don't even necessarily send 4 or 5 time DWI offenders straight to the pen. If they come to the court or prosecutors and can show that they've never had a serious opportunity for treatment, and they actually want treatment, we will in many instances let them go to SAFPF or even private inpatient programs.

The bottom line, I suspect, is that in most cases the felony DWI folks in prison have been given all sorts of treatment opportunities. They no longer want treatment and, if they are already in the pen, can't be forced into treatment. We offer SAFPF all the time to people who reply "How much time will you give me if I just take pen time?" If you can't get them to stop driving drunk after the 2nd or 3rd DWI, odds are they are career drunks who have no desire to change.

Incarceration for these people is not a failure, Grits. It at least keeps them off the roads for the time they are locked up. You can offer these people every treatment known to man but unfortunately, the only thing that will work for most of them is progressively longer pen sentences for each subsequent offense. Might not make Sen. Whitmire feel good, but that's just the world we live in.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. These people have had treatment and it didn't work and no amount of treatment is going to work. They need to be segregated from society.

Furthermore, they have to "want" treatment and be willing to do what it takes. The vast majority do NOT--Even if we had unlimited funds to spend on treatment

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:16, it was a failure in this instance, wasn't it? It delayed a tragedy but did not prevent it, and the treatment programs you insist are be available weren't utilized, even though the state had chances to try to do more.

Texas cannot build enough prisons to house all its drunks (or for that matter all its drug addicts). There has to be an alternative approach - or really, probably several.

Anonymous said...

Its an ironic subject for me, husband is currently in supervised housing because of parole violations. He is lucky we now live in Ct. (From Tx) He has, for the first time had some intensive rehab and counseling.... But even with me bringing him to 4-5 counseling sessions a week, AA meetings, support at home, He still drank AND drove when he has no license (I wasn't home) on numerous occasions. I fully applaud funding for mental health and addiction services, but its not a cure all. Repeat drunk drivers are Alcoholics. It is a disease. BUT that is not an excuse and I agree with the poster, you have to want to stop drinking and driving. I don't know what the answer is. Treatment for first offenders would probably help, before lifelong bad habits take root.

sunray's wench said...

You also live in a society that makes it extremely difficult to function if you do not drive a vehicle. Many alcoholics do hold down jobs, but they still drive to work drunk every morning.

Maybe the money currently allocated to rehab programmes should be diverted to public transport systems instead?

Anonymous said...

We've got it backwards here. Why do we as a society not promote educating our children and making it a part of the public school curriculum as to the ills of drinking and use of drugs before turning them out to drive? Why are we not proactive instead of waiting to be reactive?

After all, the Barton man mentioned in the article was 17 when he received his first DWI.

Do we not do it because some believe we have some sort of right to be indifferent?

Retired LE

Anonymous said...

Posted by Sunray...Maybe the money currently allocated to rehab programmes should be diverted to public transport systems instead?

What would the point of that be?

Anonymous said...

I am a recovering alcoholic with multiple DWI's, although, thankfully, none has ever resulted in an auto accident, all of the loss I experienced because of my drinking (financial, freedom and relationships) were still not enough for me to deter me from abusing alcohol. I have been sober for 3 years now, and have no compulsion to drink, but it took some very good instructors, and a long term treatment through the Veterans Administration to finally take a look at the real problem which was me.

The problem is, only a very small percentage (about 3%) of alcoholics and addicts ever find long term sobriety even after treatment/education. Instead of focusimg on the medical aspects of substance abuse, the real treatment needs to be holistic and multi disciplinary

sunray's wench said...

Anonymous 7.09 said...

Posted by Sunray...Maybe the money currently allocated to rehab programmes should be diverted to public transport systems instead?

What would the point of that be?

Drunks on the bus instead of behind a wheel: when was the last time you heard of a drunk bus passenger killing a whole family on a freeway?

PirateFriedman said...

Here's an article suggesting that the drunk driving problem is over blown:


I suspect that if there were an easy solution to the problem society would have solved it by now. So get over it people, drunk driving is here to stay.

I've always wanted to see what the statistics were for at what times of the day drunk driving occurs. I'd imagine it is heavily weighted towards 9:00 PM - 2:30 AM but I'll wait for the data.

In the meantime, avoid driving at night! Even if you don't get hit by a drunk driver, the cops are out in force and you have a good chance of getting a ticket.

Steve said...

Most people relapse at least a half a dozen times before they successfully stop smoking, so several failed attempts at sobriety is not unusual. Once a person goes to prison, that may finally wake them up enough to realize they need to take their alcoholism seriously. I don't want to give up this program.

Anonymous said...

unless your a killer or some harden criminal, the entire criminal justice system in Texas is about financially gang raping the poor. Big fines and long probation periods are use to pay the judges and individuals outrageous salaries by enslaving its citizens because the State and City officials give away property tax exemptions to corporations to relocate under the premise of no health insurance and salaries paid less than the minimum wage. This is a disgrace and one of these days the streets will burn due to the injustice of the criminal justice system in Texas

Don said...

Steve said: "Most people relapse at least a half a dozen times before they successfully stop smoking, so several failed attempts at sobriety is not unusual. Once a person goes to prison, that may finally wake them up enough to realize they need to take their alcoholism seriously. I don't want to give up this program."
That would be. . .which program, Steve? Not being facetious, truly confused.
Also, Steve, please read what I said about offenders not getting the required education programs, and comment on that. I have six in a DWI Intervention class now, 3 of them had the DWI Education 1st offense class. Last time I had 12, about the same percentage.

Anonymous said...

Posted By Sunray.....Drunks on the bus instead of behind a wheel: when was the last time you heard of a drunk bus passenger killing a whole family on a freeway?

That rates right up there when the last time I heard of a drunk using a designated driver. Car or no car, drivers license or none, revoked or suspended, insurance or no insurance, interlock device or none, on or off probation, on or off parole, drunks are going to drive.

Anonymous said...

Notice the language "Progressives" use. Incarceration fails. The one who had to be incarcerated is passive and not responsible. Others are responsible for incarcerating him and then for changing his dangerous habits. And, of course they will fail because they don't know what they are doing.

Others are responsible for treating the one who is a danger on the highway. "Treatment fails" - again others are responsible for the failure not the one who maintains a f-you attitude towards treatment no matter how many times he is offered that service. The concept of personal responsibility seems to never enter the picture.

Anonymous said...

Let's make this real simple. If you are driving to the grocery store (or wherever) you don't want a drunk driver to smash into you car and kill you. You also don't want them to kill a family member or friend. Am I wrong? Do you follow me so far?

Now lets see if you can follow the next baby step. If you have a family member who makes a practice of driving drunk and may kill someone, you have a responsibility to do something about that family member. You shouldn't just sit there and let them kill us.

If your family member is offered a chance at treatment you should be concerned that he take advantage of that opportunity and work hard to change his potentially deadly habits.

He's your family member. I would try baby step number three but not everybody can understand the responsibility the drunk driver has.

Anonymous said...

John Barton should be executed. He serves no purpose on this planet. He only cares about himself and alcohol.

BLACK INK said...

Substance abuse rehabilitation programs that enroll participants through coercion have never been shown to be efficacious.

Treating alcoholism is very difficult under the best of circumstances.

However, if the alcoholic does not recognize his disease and voluntarily seek treatment, the likelihood of his/her successful remission is the same as you winning the lottery.

That said, an individual's exposure to the availability of substance abuse programs can initiate a successful potential and should be encouraged in lock down facilities AND in the community for chronic follow up.

Consistency, self responsibility and consequences for behavior are essential for any meaningful positive outcome.

Big Brother government is not a substitute for individual responsibility.

Anonymous said...

I get tired of talking about this because nobody listen's.The good ole USA and Texas has nobody to blame for DWI but the good ole USA and Texas.In the 1930'and 40s My great grandfather Drove the roads of Texas drunk as a skunk without conseqeunce.Both of My Grandfather's drank and drove the roads of Texas and the south and nobody cared.To women it was luxury, to men it was a macho stance.My parents also spent half there lives Drinking and Driving till they were about 45 years of age. Then in the early eightees, the law's changed drastically and good ole boy's and girls became public enemy number one.Carrying on 60+ years of family tradition's.But then agian, no one really wants to solve this problem, The state makes to much money of offender's.
Other wise there would have been alcohol detector modules installed at the major auto factories year's go.All Madd is, is just a blind anger'd lobbying group that never comes up with any soltuion's,Just more anger.One of the saying's in AA groups are keep doing the same old things and expecting different results is a pure definition of insanity.That could surely be applied to Madd and all the other tunnel visioned law maker's that Cant think out of thier tunnel.

Anonymous said...

"My great grandfather drove the roads of Texas drunk as a skunk without conseqeunce. Both of My Grandfather's drank and drove the roads of Texas and the south and nobody cared."

People is just tryin to mess with drunk drivers!

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