Budget Cuts Could Affect Texas Prison DWI Program
Texas prison DWI prison and drug treatment programs are reluctant to accept budget cuts that would reverse gains they’ve made in treating DWI offenders.
If a pending legislative proposal to slash all programs by 5 percent moves forward when the legislature reconvenes in January 2011, the successful treatment programs would lose $7.8 million, to help address the state budget shortfall of $15-18 billion.
This mandated diversion of funds originally allocated to treating drunk drivers and drug offenders could result in fewer prisoners receiving much-needed treatments. Such a decrease in funding would reportedly eliminate help for 1,346 offenders each year.
In turn, this would lead to an increase in the number of convicted DWI offenders returning to Texas roads without treatment – putting other people on the roads at serious risk of injury.
Prison treatment for DWI offenders in Texas is a hot-button issue. The state tops the nation for alcohol-related driving deaths; in 2008, 1,473 people were killed by drunk drivers in Texas. The state also houses one of the largest inmate populations doing time for DWI. In part, this is because under Texas law a third DWI offense elevates the crime to felony status, punishable by 10 years in prison.
With more than 6,000 DWI inmates, the Texas prison system benefits from treatment programs both with respect to reducing recidivism and to improved inmate behavior while the DWI sentence is being served. Additionally, the residents of Texas benefit immensely; if those with substance abuse problems receive treatments, they are less likely to return to the roads while intoxicated.
If instead Texas cuts back on its commitment to treatment for imprisoned DWI offenders, it might well experience more situations like that of John Patrick Barton. Barton caused a car crash in Lewisville in early April, killing a woman and her teenage daughter and injuring other family members.
On parole at the time, Barton had passed through the prison system previously for DWI offenses without receiving any treatment. Unfortunately, Barton’s is not an isolated case – one notorious DWI offender in the state has been convicted 11 times, yet returns to the road and the bottle.
Sen. John Whitmire told the Dallas News that Texas already has some of the strictest DWI laws in the country. He said treating offenders while they’re in the system is more effective than increasing their sentences.
Certainly, not everyone convicted of DWI or a drug offense in Texas has a substance abuse problem that necessitates ongoing treatment. However, it would truly be a shame if the state was to stop offering treatments to those who are seeking to make positive changes to their lives while incarcerated.