In Fort Worth the city is taking a different approach in rehabilitating drunk drivers. A large percentage of those who are convicted of a DUI or DWI become repeat offenders, and it’s not enough to simply re-incarcerate them. Society needs to find a way to help these men and women change after they’ve been through the criminal and civil courts. There’s a program in Tarrant County that is trying to address the problems of rehabilitation. It’s called the Felony Alcohol Intervention Program (FAIP) and it is an alternative to automatic jail sentences. A felon who has been convicted of multiple DWIs is given a choice – prison time or an extensive 4 year probation program.
Understanding the Program
At first glance, a few years of probation does not sound nearly as arduous as a prison sentence, but the program itself is very intensive. It begins with a 10 day jail stay and includes a series of random urine and breath tests. The program institutes comprehensive counseling and alcohol treatment to address the psychological factors. Each person has a “PIR” or “partner in recovery” to help them through the process. Participants must make weekly court appearances and frequent meetings with probation officers. Full-time employment is another program mandate. If any of the rules are broken, judges generally send the felon in question straight back to prison.
The program’s website lists four goals:
- -Increasing successful treatment outcomes for those who are most likely to jeopardize the safety of the community
- -Reducing the costs of repeated crime
- -Addressing DWI as a substance abuse problem thereby increasing public safety
- -Changing the attitudes and behavior of DWI offenders
It’s interesting to note that only the last goal addresses the individual repeat offender and that the first three are devoted entirely to the greater good of the community.
The Idea Behind It
The program represents a controversial concept. What is the role of imprisonment? Is it punishment or is it a way to fundamentally change a human being for the better? Recent program graduate John Knapp told WFAA reporters, “A lot of people don’t understand that when you’re incarcerated and directly taken out of society, you don’t get an opportunity to change your life, because you’re just sitting in a cell. There’s no support. There’s nobody there to help you.”
Is the Fort Worth program effective in helping people? Since the program began in 2006, only two percent of the 261 participants ended up back in prison. A quote on the FAIP website says, “If you want to keep the drunk drivers off the road, you don’t take their car away from them. You take the drinking away from them.”
What Does It Cost?
When wondering about whether or not this program should be extended or used in other cities, it’s natural to want to know how much it costs. It costs you and me about $50 a day to house an inmate in a Texas prison as taxpayers. The extensive rehab program costs around $3 a day. More importantly than any monetary cost, is the human cost. When drunk drivers alter their behavior, lives are saved.
Again and again drunk drivers who are released through standard probation programs or who serve out short sentences get back behind the wheel as drunk as ever within a few years or even months after their release. It is almost as if we are faced with two alternatives: 1) give drunk drivers life-sentences with little or no parole opportunity or 2) find an effective rehabilitation program to help felons transition from prison back into society. It’s not easy to strike the right balance between punishment and rehabilitation. It’s even more difficult to develop an effective reform program with a high success rate but at a relatively low cost.
I sincerely hope that this new program continues to prove effective and affordable. If it can truly deliver a 98% rate of reform, it may serve as a model program for other cities. We desperately need a better way to stop the drunk driving epidemic from as many angles as possible including before and after an accident.