Jail Space Must Be Part Of The Drunk Driving Debate

jail

I’ve been pretty critical of the “get tougher” approach many state leaders seem to be taking in response media hype that has created the perception that North Dakota has a worsening drunk driving problem (something not actually born out by the data). We’ve increased DUI arrests in North Dakota by 53% since 2001 with zero impact on alcohol-related fatalities and accidents.

Maybe “get tough” doesn’t actually work.

But setting that question aside for a moment, there’s another consideration to keep in mind: If we start putting more DUI offenders in jail, where are we going to find room?

Legislation proposed by state Republican Rep. Kim Koppelman, and backed by Governor Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, would mandate a minimum of four days in jail for first-time offenders. Democrat Rep. Ed Gruchalla is proposing penalties that are even more draconian, to an absurd degree, which would mandate 30 days in jail for a first time offender, and six months in jail for a second time offender.

When I interviewed Koppelman about the legislation earlier this week, he told me that mandatory jail time for first-time offenders was an important part of the bill as he feels spending some time in jail might help the seriousness of DUI crimes sink in.

Maybe that’s right, but it’s also going to mean big new burdens for the state’s jails if all 6,000 – 7,000 DUI offenders convicted in the state annually have to spend at least four days, or thirty days, in jail.

“[Ward County] Sheriff Steve Kukowski says jails throughout the state of North Dakota are already at maximum capacity,” reports KXMC News. That’s not a surprising problem for a state that just posted the fastest population growth rate in the nation, but saddling DUI offenders with mandatory jail time is going to exacerbate the problem in a big way.

It’s hard to imagine legislation backed by Governor Dalrymple and Attorney General Stenehjem failing, especially when addressing emotionally-charged issue which tends to bring out the Do Something attitude from the public, but if the fiscal note detailing the cost of these bills is anything close to accurate, and includes the cost of impact to local government in terms of increased jail needs, it may give many legislators pause.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

Related posts

  • Lianne

    Appeasing a grieving father and grandfather with talk of a ‘let’s be nice to the drunks law’
    is insulting. I can’t imagine the loss the family feels. If we are serious about cracking down on driving drunk or high, le’t put some beef in the law. Four days in the tank is about the time needed to sleep one off, nothing harsh about that. I don’t hear opposition to my loss of vehicular privilege here on this blog, so that is one option.
    We are ‘fighting’ driving drunk, and yet nearly every bar has a huge parking lot. There are exceptions like the Liberty Tavern, if that is even open now after the flood, I don’t know. But, let’s stop the drunk driving on public roads and streets with one way in and one way out on all those parking lots. ON the way out, everyone must be subjected to a breathalyzer. If over the limit, be charged with driving while under the influence, car is returned to the parking lot by a valet, keys are turned over to authorities and the quilty must then go to the police department after 24 hours to pick-up their keys. and at that time be subjected to another breathalyzer test. With the second offense, vehicular privilege is taken away.

    • The fighting Czech

      Wouldnt it just be just to shoot them in the parking lot???

      • The Fighting Czech

        I suppose I should mention to the dim minded, that was sarcasm,

    • Roy_Bean

      Let me start by saying that I have no sympathy for drunk drivers. The trouble is that this law will have little or no effect outside the states largest cities. The unfortunate family from West Fargo was killed in rural Stutsman County, not in Fargo. If you search out information readily available to the public you can find cases where Stutsman County reduced DUI charges to reckless driving on plea bargains less than 8 months before the family was killed in the crash. If they were unwilling to prosecute the law as written with the existing penalties, what leads you to believe that they will prosecute a law with harsher penalties? If defendants get a jury trial then all bets are off (O.J. Simpson).

      It would be nice if “something could be done” and this would never happen again. The sad fact is that the people who had the best opportunity to stop this were the people he was drinking with and the people at the rest area. It is the responsibility of all of us to step up and step in when we see someone obviously drunk behind the wheel. It might be uncomfortable and it might involve the risk of getting punched but funerals for entire families are uncomfortable too. The solution is with all of us, not just the police and the courts.

      • Lianne

        the responsibility lies with the drinker. if people around him knew that he was drinking, drunk and drivingand didn’t contact authorities, then the responsibility spreads to them. but, do you see how soon the conversation shifts to gentle and kind, less is better than more punishment for drinking while driving? so, are we again just paying lip service to this with no serious change? If so, then we shouldn’t be wasting our legislators time. Laws and common sense that are already in place were ignored.

        • Roy_Bean

          If you look at your post, you have said that the responsibility lies with the irresponsible. While I agree with you on that, the prevention lies with the rest of us. Even if someone at the rest area had called the authorities, the crash happened less than 2 minutes away. The authorities wouldn’t have had time prevent it. What could have prevented it is if 2 sober drivers had parked close enough that he couldn’t get back in his car. It would have created a scene, it would have been unpleasant, the sober drivers may have been dragged into an altercation, but the family from West Fargo would still be alive.

          We will never have enough police officers, judges and jail cells to prevent every crash of this type. We do have enough sober citizens if they are willing to get involved.

          • Lianne

            putting responsibility on those who are irresponsible. that really doesn’t work, does it? And there probably is nothing that could have stopped this horrific accident. But our goal is to get more drunks off the road, and I still say taking away their vehicular privilege via the use of wheel clamps/Denver boot for a year for the first offense, 5 years for the seond relinquishing their vehicles for LIFE after the third would go a long way toward achieving that goal.

  • kevindf

    The legislators never bother with the “unintended consequences” of what they do. They can’t see further than the end of their noses.

    • Lianne

      or the noses of their desired voters

    • schreib

      That is because much legislation stems from reactions rather than thinking it rationally through.

  • reggy

    Skip the jail, just hit convicted offenders with a lifetime driving ban. 4 days in jail isn’t serious, never being legally allowed behind the wheel again is.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well sure, and then we can watch welfare rates soar with all the people who lose their jobs because they cant get to work.

      • Lianne

        There are many who currently find themseleves in that situation and either walk to work, catch the bus, a ride with a co-worker depend on a family member. etc.
        Are we serious about getting the drunks off the road or just giving lip service to a grieving family.
        Your statement assumes that everyone will continue to break the law. I contend that getting the majority off the roads with the most severe punishment, is better than allowing it to continue.
        Do you have the break down on who many first, second, third, fourth fifth time offenders there have been?

        • Lianne

          *, how many

          • schreib

            What if you live 40 miles from town? That is not unrealistic with this state. One could move to town, but good luck finding a place to live. The problem with increasing fines is that it will easily be paid by those who are wealthy, but will only hurt the families that are just getting by. Many have been first time offenders, but the problem seems to be with repeat offenders. Just putting folks in jail will not solve the problem. Repeat offenders need to be forced into confined treatment. They should not get a choice. Putting more folks in jail will only put more families on the welfare rolls.

          • Lianne

            So they live 40 miles from where they work? Or they are drinking 40 miles from where they live? A novel idea is to not drive drunk or high. Jail time is not the answer because it does not deter drinking and driving, you’re right. Fines should ‘hurt. Killing an innocent person hurts a lot more.

          • schreib

            Actually, if the offender is jailed for a long time—not in cases where a dealth is involved, it is the citizens of North Dakota who will pay in caring for his family

          • Lianne

            I guess you are stuck on money. Fines should be a wake up call. Bankrupt? Who has been bankrupt from DUI fines? The hurt I was referring to when an innocent person is killed or maimed was the actual loss of the person him or her self, not the financial aspect of the loss.

          • schreib

            Fines should hurt, but not bankrupt

          • Lianne

            Or one could choose to drive only when sober.

          • Jeremiah Glosenger

            Fines help pay for the criminal justice system that the criminals themselves are the users of–it couldn’t be more fair than it is. If they can’t afford fines, quit breaking the law. I drive the speed limit for a lot of reasons, but they do include the fact that it saves money that I don’t want to spend on fines and higher auto insurance. You really aren’t breaking my heart with the sob story of how the poor criminal couldn’t pay his fine. I feel sad that he made poor choices, but he needs to live with the consequences and face up to them. With our liberties and the freedom to choose come consequences–not freedom from consequences. Those consequences will most definitely affect you and those around you. Use your freedom wisely. Judges ordering chemical dependency screenings and appropriate treatment where indicated is a great idea, but I believe that already exists if I’m not mistaken.

        • schreib

          Treatment is the answer this will only fatten the state coffers

          • Lianne

            Treatment is one answer, but not the only answer. It worked in the case of your husband and his self treatment for his depression. However, drinking is not the issue. The issue is stopping a person from getting behind the wheel and out onto public streets whild under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. What action would deter them from making that choice.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          The only problem I see with your position, Lianne, is that in the past increasing arrests hasn’t reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities or crashes.

          So yes, I do wan to get drunks of the road, I just think “get tough” works only up to a point. And I especially don’t want to put a lot more people in prison costing the taxpayers a lot more money, in the name of policy that doesn’t work.

          • Lianne

            I agree, jail,doesn’t work, fines don’t stop them, treatment doesn’t stop them. I want them removed from vehicular privilege or vehicular privilege removed from them.

            What is your solution to getting drunk drivers off the road?

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            Id like to focus on safe ride home programs.

            Because we can’t stop people from being drunk. We’ll never get all the drunk drivers. Jail and penalties and even license suspensions will only take us so far. Look at how many people get arrested for driving without a license.

            Maybe we can save more lives by just getting the did home safe.

          • Lianne

            Safe ride programs sset in place by whom? The drunks could use cabs, neighbors, spouse, designated drivers, and yet they chose not to. How will you force them inot a safe ride home program? Will it be required for everyone? I would like to hear more.

          • Tim Heise

            Safe ride programs is just government sanctioned alcohalism.

          • Lianne

            Rob, do you have a plan in place that will be implemented in every bar? Who should cover the cost? Are you suggesting the state???

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            I’d say set up partnerships with the cab companies, and yes subsidize the rides (we can pull money from the DUI checkpoints which are a terrible affront to notions about privacy and due process anyway). Get buy-in from the bars and restaurant too.

          • Lianne

            Hoave you visited with bar owners, legislators, and cab companies? How many cabs per bar, per city would it take to handle the numbers. Maybe larger cities could use city buses and ‘subsidized’ by the passengers themselves. Smaller towns could use cabs or private entrepreneurs to deliver those who should not be drinking. With the threat of the ‘boot’ on each and every vehicle owned, for 1yr, 5yr or a lifetime, they may feel more encouraged to use the safe drive home program.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      The trouble with a lifetime driving ban is it doesn’t allow room for people to learn from their mistakes. If our judicial system is about punishment or revenge, fine. If the goal of our judicial system is to make the streets safer and correct criminal behavior, then a ban is wrong. A ban implies that a drunk driver cannot learn from his mistakes.

      A member of my family was convicted for drunk driving, lost his license for about a year, and, for the rest of his life, never combined drinking with driving. He learned his lesson and corrected the behavior.

      The lifetime bans should be reserved for those individuals who show that they will not correct their behavior. Prison, fines, and the like should be tools to correct behavior, not punish.

      • Lianne

        Prison is punishment and if one learns from their mistake through being jailed, that is an added bonus. I realize that a life time ban is severe, but so is the killing of innocent lives. I acan see a compromise of a ban for one year for the first offense and for 5 years for the second offense and life for the third. And pray no one is killed or maimed in between the offenses,.

      • Jeremiah Glosenger

        It is called a criminal justice system. Justice implies a punishment be meted out for a wrongdoing (or that one be vindicated if innocent). While we hope that punishments (if sufficient) will deter any criminal behavior, the mere unpleasantness of the punishment itself lends to deter future crimes by those imprisoned. I believe in second chances and rehabilitation of criminals, but punishment is an important part of that. It is not a punishment unless it feels like a punishment to the criminal. Those who overemphasize the “corrective” nature end up removing much of the deterrence that the punishment was supposed to provide. There are many who are not afraid to commit crimes, because they are not afraid to go to a “liberalized” prison system. That makes things more dangerous for me and my family. At least we still have the second amendment…..at least for now anyways.

        • Lianne

          You raised several good points, but the ‘liberalized’ jail and prison system is not hard core punishment is an excellent one.

  • schreib

    Many years ago, after my father in law died, my husband who was very close to his dad had a hard time coping and he turned to alcohol. He was picked up and charged. Was it right what he did?—-Absolutely no. He took the consequences, and we hired the lowest priced lawyer we could find. He took the classes and paid the 250.00 fine. We had 5 small children at that time and we had to make payments. We had to do without and even our grocery budget was lowered. My husband did not suffer as much as his wife and kids. So I think the fine depending on the ability to pay and the offense number should be determined by a judge with a minimum fine as a guide
    My husband finally got counselling for his grief as well as his drinking and now no longer drinks I wish they would look at things on a case by case basis. Just putting folks in jail gets them off the streets for a time but the root of the problem is still there.

    • Lianne

      I am glad that he recovered as did your family. I gather from your note that he was not involved in an accident. We are thankful for that. Do you know how many times he had driven under the influence before he got caught? And you are right, jail is NOT the answer. Did the family have to pay some consequences for his actions? Yes, but that is the reality of making bad choices.
      would he have driven drunk if he had known that there was a possibility of losing the family car? Maybe, but maybe not. If he had been stopped at the bar parking lot each time, would that have quickened his treatment? I don’t know. But, I do feel we need to respond to the greater consequence which is loss of life or seriously injured rather than the inconveniences imposed on families by the one breaking the law.

      • schreib

        He wasn’t a bar guy. And this was shortly after his dad died. It took him a little longer to get help because he was raised at a time where men were supposed to man up and do it yourself. He finally realized that he needed help. but his children should not have had to suffer. He didn’t realize at the time that he would take his whole family with him. There has to be a better way. Most alcoholics drink in secret not in a bar

        • Lianne

          There are consequences to one’s actions and some are pretty hard to get over. There is no law in the world that can change that. It was a bad time in your life, but it sounds as if you got through it. That is good, right?

  • schreib

    President BooHoo will just fix the problem by giving the offenders an Obama Phone.

  • Jeremiah Glosenger

    Far too many people are irresponsible and drive drunk. Far too many. My experience has been that the people I know that don’t want stiffer drunk driving penalties are usually motivated by the fear that those penalties will eventually affect them; however, in order for a law to have a deterrent effect, the punishment can’t continue to be a slap on the wrist. Giving everybody probation and a nice talking too doesn’t cut it. You can raise the fines to help offset the costs of the jail space OR perhaps people will not continue to flagrantly break the law at current rates (the assumption that the whole article is based on). The purpose of the stiffer penalties is to decrease offenses so we don’t have to use the penalties. Even so, I would rather pay for increased jail space than to have my wife or kids maimed or killed by a drunk driver. When you experience the reality of one of these tragedies, it may change your view on the subject–or convince you to stop driving after drinking.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      One drunk driver I’d too many. But I don’t have faith in ” get tough” policies fixing that problem.

    • Lianne

      I would think that if the drinkers knew that they could lose vehicular privilege for one year, with a fine to cover whatever court costs,etc and no jail time that they would take precautions to avoid that inconvenience. 5years for the second and live for the third offense.

  • awfulorv

    There have been innumerable, good, ideas advanced over time on how to solve the problem of the drunk driver. Asking a friend to stay sober is one, but most drunks don’t have that many friends do, in large part, by their actions during previous drinking bouts. This problem might have been mitigated by assigning one cash for clunker, remember them, to each bar in America which asked for one, for the express purpose of hauling drunks home. The details could have been worked out and, if we’re really serious about this problem, they would have been. Unemployed yutes, of the neighborhood, on call, could have been used as drivers, and earned a reasonable, and welcome, fee for their services, far less than the cost, and trouble, of a DUI. And why, oh why, doesn’t Obama just decree that there shall be no more drunk driving?

    • Lianne

      Or we could just decriminalize drunk driving, triple tax on alcohol, and mandate treatment for everyone found quilty, the first 40 days being in-patient status.

  • Tim Heise

    We are NOT and have not been getting tough on drunk drivers. More arrests do not mean as such when often those drunk drivers plead for a lesser charge and/or have EXTREMELY weak punishment.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      The problem with tougher punishments is a) we don’t have the jail space and b) if we suspend licenses people are just going to drive anyway, without their licenses and often without insurance too.

  • awfulorv

    Why is the dealer put on trial, for selling dope, but owners, and bartenders, are free to go home to there warm beds, while the hapless imbiber of their wares, in many cases addicted, are being thrown into a cold, dank, drunk tank? Since tradition is being overturned, in so many quarters, perhaps we should look again at that one. Unless it can be shown that bars are, somehow, a cornerstone of our society, as indispensable as the forthcoming Pot Parlors will be.

  • awfulorv

    Look, the drunk drivers are out there, despite all efforts to keep them off the roads. So, if they can’t be beaten, perhaps we might find a means to have them join us. I wonder what the result would be if we gave those who’ve been drinking the left lane to drive in from, say, 10 pm till 4 am, whilst we sober drivers kept to the right. We might try this in a few less populated states and see how it works out. And triple the regular fines, or some such thing if, after allowing them their own lane, they stray into, and are involved in a accident in the right lane.

  • awfulorv

    As an addendum to our debate on the problem of drunk and, otherwise impaired, drivers and, in view of the terrible accident that happened yesterday near Jamestown, it’s obvious that we’ve, somehow, overlooked the banning of drifting snow. Not to make light of the tragedy but this is simply more evidence that when you go out there, shit does happen. RIP Missourians…

Top