Is The Cost Of A DUI Deterring Offenders Or Benefiting The State?
OKLAHOMA CITY - Almost 20,000 Oklahoma drivers are arrested for driving under the influence each year. And Mothers Against Drunk Driving says more than 1/3 reoffend.
Drunk drivers are required to spend hundreds, if not thousands, on court-mandated treatments. Treatments some say are benefiting the state more than the offender.
Mental Health Therapist Donna Cunningham has evaluated convicted drunk drivers for nearly 20 years. She said the process in our state to determine how much treatment they need has a flaw and it begins with the costly price tag.
Offenders must bond out of jail and get their car out of impound, plus legal fees and a variety of court-ordered treatments.
Oklahoma DUI Attorney John Hunsucker said one DUI offense can cost $6000-$10,000.
"It makes sense," Hunsucker said, "Who's going to complain about taxing a drunk driver."
With one in three first time offenders repeating, some say the expense is not a deterrent.
There's a variety of methods designed to help. Each offender has to take a D.R.I. Assessment, basically a series of questions tied to a points system. The higher the points, the more treatment the offender is required to undergo.
"If you're driving drunk you need to be held accountable, Cunningham said, "But if the offender is going to be held accountable, the agencies should be held accountable as well."
Cunningham believes certain questions on the DRI are designed to automatically raise the score, sending more money to the state. Which brings us back to her concern.
"I certainly think it's a money generated program" Cunningham said.
Ray Caesar with the Department of Mental Health disagrees.
"We are not somehow making money from this process and the fees all go back to see that services are provided for the people in the state that need service," Caesar said.
Caesar said if anything, the state doesn't have enough money to treat everyone. He tells me there are regularly more than 600 people on the waiting list.
"While I'm 100% for keeping drunk drivers off the road," Cunningham said, "They're not all the same and they shouldn't be treated the same."
The Department of Mental Health said they received $295,000 from offenders attending treatment courses in 2012. That's less than 1% of their total substance abuse program's annual budget.