A newly introduced bill created by Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services aims to reduce repeat DUI offenses and recidivism among repeat DUI offenders in the state by reducing jail time in exchange for offenders’ participation in treatment programs.
If passed, the proposed legislation would allow a judge to order participation in an inpatient or intensive outpatient substance abuse treatment program following a substance abuse assessment by an alcohol abuse expert upon the offender’s request. Offenders will be awarded jail time reduction credit for treatment days. For inpatient treatment, the trade-off is one day of treatment for one day of jail. For outpatient programs, the trade-off is three evenings for one day.
However, the option to participate in treatment in exchange for jail-time reduction would only apply to second- and third-time DUI offenders. Second-time offenders would have to serve at least 15 days in jail before participating in a treatment program to reduce remaining time. Third-time offenders would have to serve at least 60 days. Judges would also be able to ignore the treatment option and order more jail time with requirements for drug and alcohol screening or monitoring devices at their discretion.
The proposed bill aims to reduce repeat DUI offenses and arrests by getting to the root of the problem: getting treatment for offenders with an alcohol abuse problem or addiction. Simply sending DUI offenders to jail only delays their next offense, especially if they have an alcohol problem.
In addition to reducing recidivism and getting help for offenders with alcohol problems, the bill would also save local governments $1.8 million per year statewide by reducing the amount of jail time served by DUI offenders. Sponsors of the bill also report that a special account to cover costs of those unable to pay for treatment is already in place. Such funding would come from part of the fines paid by all convicted drunk drivers in the state.
While the bill was just introduced in January, it already passed its first hurdle when it was recently OK’d by the House’s Criminal Justice Committee.