Supporters push for more funding

ATLANTA --- Courts that combine traditional drunken-driving sentences with treatment for repeat offenders have succeeded and the state should invest more funding in the initiatives, supporters said Friday.

A report released Friday said the rate of new crimes was 9 percent for graduates from three of Georgia's earliest "DUI courts," based in Athens-Clarke County, Chatham County and Hall County, compared with 24 percent for offenders in counties without the courts.

"Treatment with supervision works with hard-core drunken-driving offenders," said Clarke County State Court Judge Kent Lawrence, who handles the program in his county.

Advocates for the courts, which range from state officials to alcohol producers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, say the approach works because it tries to help repeat offenders deal with their substance abuse.

"If you want to fix the problem, get to the root of the problem, and that's why DUI courts succeed," said Bob Dallas, the director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

David, a 41-year-old graduate of a DUI court in Forsyth County who declined to give his last name, said the program helped him find other ways to deal with his problems than alcohol.

He had a drunken-driving arrest in 2001 but avoided future charges until his divorce several years later. He was arrested again in December 2005 and then in February 2006 before agreeing to enter the DUI court system.

"As long as you follow the rules and do what's expected of you, the vast majority of people can succeed," David said. " It's changed my life. I've seen it change the lives of other people."

Even supporters, though, admit it might be difficult to get lawmakers to devote more funding for the courts as a budget shortfall forces cuts in education, health care and other priorities. But they say they have a selling point.

"I think, even in difficult economic times, people are always interested in being able to help a life or save a life," said Denise Thames, the executive director of MADD's Georgia chapter.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (678) 977-3709 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.

DUI COURT SYSTEM

HOW IT WORKS: Offenders are incarcerated but then enter a treatment program under court supervision. Offenders who violate the terms of the program can be jailed again, first for short periods and then longer stays with each violation.

SUCCESS RATE: The system saw about 79 percent of enrollees stay out of trouble and continue following the requirements or graduate between October 2002 and April 2006, according to research by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.