DA Craig Watkins: Punishment or Treatment For DWI Offenders is a "False Choice"

Categories: Crime, Politics
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No doubt you caught at least some of The Dallas Morning News's recently wrapped three-part series on Texas's trouble with properly punishing drunken drivers. Probation instead of prison; back behind the wheel instead of behind bars. Says Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins in a missive his campaign sent out this morning, prosecutors are stuck with a "false choice" -- treatment or time, that's that. And, says Watkins, enough's enough.

The whole letter, intended as a campaign fundraiser, follows. But an excerpt before you drink and drive to the jump:
I believe it's absurd that prosecutors and judges are forced to make this false choice. Punishment and treatment shouldn't be mutually exclusive. We know drunk drivers have to get treatment to increase the chances they won't get behind the wheel drunk again. But we should be able to lock up drunk drivers and know they can get that treatment. To make Dallas County safer, we need that to happen. That means lawmakers in Austin have to step up and better fund those programs we know work.
The rest of his thoughts on the other side. But, might as well: Watkins is on a barbershop tour tomorrow. But isn't King of Cutz at 3109 Grand Avenue? Eric Celeste -- still needs fact-checking.

This is what Watkins says in his campaign fund-raiser:
The paper noted that prosecutors would like to send more intoxication manslaughter defendants to prison, but say the lack of substance abuse programs in Texas prisons forces them to pick between punishment and probation with rehabilitation.

Because treatment for drug and alcohol abuse is too rarely an option in the Texas prison system (due to inadequate funding), my prosecutors often find themselves suggesting probation, since that sentence usually includes mandatory drug and alcohol rehabilitation as a condition to completion.

I believe it's absurd that prosecutors and judges are forced to make this false choice. Punishment and treatment shouldn't be mutually exclusive. We know drunk drivers have to get treatment to increase the chances they won't get behind the wheel drunk again. But we should be able to lock up drunk drivers and know they can get that treatment. To make Dallas County safer, we need that to happen. That means lawmakers in Austin have to step up and better fund those programs we know work.

Just look at the statistics: According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, barely one in five prisoners convicted of intoxication manslaughter who were released in 2009 had undergone substance abuse treatment while in prison. Less than half of those convicted on DWI charges three or more times who were released in 2009 had themselves undergone substance abuse treatment.

I think Texas lawmakers must make more treatment slots available to those in Texas prisons so Dallas County judges and prosecutors don't have to make "all or nothing" choices.
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