On Monday, Brett Gerald pleaded guilty to seven counts of vehicular homicide in Baton Rouge, as the result of driving while drunk. On Saturday, Dallas Cowboy, Josh Brent was arrested after the vehicle he was driving swerved off the road, killing his friend and teammate Jerry Brown. Both Gerald and Brent carried multiple operating a vehicle while intoxicated offenses.
In Louisiana, a first OWI conviction carries up to 6 months in jail, possible community service and loss of license for one year. A second OWI carries the same penalty, except for a loss of license for a longer period of time. Anything over a third offense is considered a felony. These convictions carry harsher penalties. However, even with penalties becoming hasher, according to the National Department of Transportation, over one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of OWIs are repeat offenders.
State representative Terry Landry, who spent many years with the Louisiana State Police, believes stronger enforcement and lengthier jail time in not the solution. His belief is that treatment and education could help prevent someone from accumulating multiple OWIs.
Judge Douglas Saloom, who see hundreds of OWI cases presented in his courtroom agrees.
"People say, put them all in jail. I'm fond of saying, you put a drunk in jail for six months and what do you have? A drunk that spent six months in jail."
The law requires that OWI offenders receive some form of drug or alcohol education. Landry believes it is not intensive enough.
"Where are the doctors and the social workers to make sure that people aren't just going to these classes just for the sake of going? They need to make sure they get the proper treatment," he said.
For third and fourth OWI convictions, the law requires an in- patient treatment for addiction. Saloom said waiting until someone is a repeat offender is not effective.
"It's just like raising kids. If you wait until that child is 10 years old to start raising them, then you've failed. If you wait until the third or fourth OWI to start treating someone, then you've failed."
Chief Medical Officer for Townsend Rehabilitation Center, Dr. Howard Wetsman agrees.
"We need to do something after the first offense. Evaluate everyone, so that those people that need to get to treatment can. After four or five OWIs, that's not the time to be getting treatment."
Dr. Wetsman believes a one size fits all punishment does more harm than good.
"It would be as ineffective to send someone without addiction to treatments, as it would to send someone with addiction to education."
His solution would be to tweak the current law, and require evaluations of a person after their first OWI.
"With good evaluations after the first offense, we can get that person to the right intervention, whether its treatment for an illness or education for a lack of knowledge. An evaluation is the first step, so that we can fit the right sentence to the right person."
Judge Saloom agrees, and believes this type of evaluation could help reduce the number or repeat offenders. In his courtroom, he said he enforces an assessment for first and second repeat offenders, even though the law does not mandate the requirement.
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