Local teams are working toward the creation of drug and DUI courts that will put some offenders under strict supervision with programs that can help them overcome addictions.
If the teams are successful, and they insist they will be, many drunken driver and drug possession offenders may find themselves in programs that are more effective and less costly than traditional forms of punishment.
There has been an increase in recent years of people charged with drunken driving in Montana. That, we suspect, is because police have been more vigilant in apprehending people who endanger others by driving while drunk, not because there has been an increase in drunken drivers.
This newspaper has been a strong supporter of making it easier for police and prosecutors to convict people who are guilty of endangering the lives of passengers, pedestrians and other motorists by driving well over the legal limit and people who are guilty of drug possession and use.
Tough sentences are often very appropriate in these cases. Appropriate indeed, but very expensive for taxpayers. It’s not cheap to put drunken drivers and drug users and sellers behind bars, providing them with food, health care and security. And when they get out, many offenders once again will be back in bars and and soon they will be behind the wheel, driving in an altered state, or they will be back in the drug scene.
That’s why in some cases, the DUI and drug courts could be a very effective tool. Offenders that judges deem acceptable could be given alternative sentences that would enable them to stay as employed members of society, with strict limits on their comings and goings. They would be required to attend counselling and would have to follow strict regulations established by the judge and other members of the teams, including law enforcement and probation officers and treatment experts.
If offenders are successful at the program, both the offenders and society will benefit. The offender will be rehabilitated and become a productive member of society. The general public will be safer on streets and highways and will fork over less in tax money than needed to keep the offender locked up.
The program requires a lot of work and puts a lot of responsibility on the judges. It is easier for them just to toss the offenders in jail. But if the drug and DUI courts are successful, it will be a win-win situation.