A DWI court that includes intensive supervision and treatment for drunken-driving offenders could be in operation in Brown County as early as Oct. 1.
Brown County Court-at-Law Judge Frank Griffin said that’s the target date for starting the court, which, he said, has proven effective at reducing recidivism in other jurisdictions.
Brown County courts see about 300 DWI cases a year, Griffin said.
Griffin was one of eight people who work in criminal justice in Brown County who attended week-long training on DWI courts in Austin recently.
He said the court would be targeted at offenders who have one or two DWI convictions, meaning they are still misdemeanors, with possible referrals from district court, where three or more convictions makes the offense a felony.
The court would be similar to the ADAPT (A Drug and Alcohol Problem Treatment) designed by District Judge Steve Ellis.
Like ADAPT participants, DWI Court offenders would receive counseling through the Mid-Tex Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Griffin said. The treatment will last a year.
“I think it can make a big difference here,” he said.
Earlier, Griffin said there are some DWI offenders who learn from their first conviction and never re-offend. Some, he said, are so impaired by their alcohol addiction they must be locked up to protect the public.
But there is a middle group, Griffin said. Standard probation isn’t always strong enough, but incarceration isn’t the best solution either. DWI court will be an alternative for that group, he said.
“These folks will be before me every week,” he said.
Griffin said instructors at the Austin training session said Brown County will be one of the smallest jurisdictions in the nation to have a DWI court.
“One of the things that really struck me is how much a program like this reduces recidivism,” Griffin said. “In larger districts, recidivism is nearly 30 percent. Statistics show (DWI court) reduces it to 5 or 6 percent.
Defense attorney Fred Franklin, who attended the training, said he believes a DWI court will be successful, but said it will take “a whole lot of effort” from everyone involved, including offenders.
“If defendants will respond to all the efforts the court makes, there is some hope they will turn from a life of addiction,” Franklin said.
“Just incarceration or scolding by the court or the indignity of a conviction is not enough to change them. But everybody’s got to give the big effort. It’s behavior modification. We’ve got to train these people to change this monkey on their back. It’s not a matter of will power.
“I’d gladly give up the business if we could cure the addiction. Not only is it a public safety matter, it ruins lives. It has generational repercussions,” Franklin said.
Assistant Brown County Attorney Ryan Locker, who also attended the training, said prosecutors as a rule are “skeptical of the rehabilitative models.”
But he said he’s encouraged at seeing what DWI courts have done in other jurisdictions to reduce recidivism.
DWI court “is not a hand-holding program. This requires severe effort on (offenders’) part,” Locker said.
“If you can keep them in treatment for at least 90 days, they’ll start to recognize this is an addiction. But recognizing the addiction is far from fixing it, and treatment regimens must be at least a year to be effective.”
He said the goal is to reduce drunken driving’s “human capital — lost lives, property damage, lost work days, injuries. We’re trying to promote public safety.”
There is a large amount of preparatory work to be done before the DWI court is operational, including drafting a guidebook and contracts, Locker said.
Griffin has said he doesn’t anticipate asking for any county funds to operate the program.
Costs of administering the DWI court will come from fees paid by offenders and grant money, Griffin and Locker said.
The Texas Legislature has enacted an additional $50 charge in court costs for offenders in intoxication offenses, Locker said.
In a jurisdiction that doesn’t have a DWI court, 90 percent of the money from the added court cost goes to state to build a grant fund, and the other 10 percent goes for administrative costs, Locker said.
If the jurisdiction has a DWI court, the jurisdiction keeps half the money, 40 percent goes to the state and the remaining 10 percent is for administration, Locker said.