Chief wants OWI arrestees monitored for alcohol use
JANESVILLE Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary is getting tired of one particular conversation. It goes like this:
Rock County resident: I want to talk to you about that homicide case.
O'Leary: I'm sorry, you'll have to be more specific. Which one?
Resident: The one where the driver was drunk.
O'Leary: Which one?
Resident: You know, the one in Janesville!
O'Leary: Which one?
Much worse than that is the conversation he has to have with the families of the victims of fatal intoxicated driving crashes, O'Leary said Thursday night to other members of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
O'Leary spoke in favor of a request made by group member Dave Moore, Janesville police chief. Moore asked the council to consider how the county could require people arrested for or convicted of felony intoxicated driving offenses to wear alcohol-monitoring bracelets.
The bracelets could eliminate a predictable behavior, Moore said.
"Behavior that is predictable can be preventable," he said. "We can predict that a repeated intoxicated driver's alcohol use will lead to another OWI (arrest). They've proved that to us over and over again."
Moore suggested that alcohol monitors could be ordered post-arrest as a condition of bail or post-conviction as a condition of sentence. The punishment for a repeat OWI offender caught drinking on the bracelet would be jail time, Moore said.
Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden said his staff could support such a sanction and likely would be a good fit to monitor a new bracelet program.
The threat of incarceration is the "stick" that would motivate offenders to comply, several CJCC members said. For example, participants in the Rock County Education and Criminal Addiction Program face prison time if they are arrested after graduation. That is part of the success of RECAP, O'Leary said.
O'Leary said that's a factor that is missing from the county's new OWI court. The county is offering the program to qualified, convicted third-offense intoxicated drivers. The program has been in operation nine days and is serving one offender, Judge Alan Bates said.
O'Leary said he is not confident that OWI court will be strong enough to stop the cycle of repeat intoxicated drivers, he said. Many third-time offenders find it easier to serve the jail time allowed for the offense as opposed to do the 18 months of addiction-recovery work required to participate in OWI Court, he said.
"I'm hearing from defense attorneys loud and clear that it's not worth it" O'Leary said. "There's too much of a downside for their clients to be under supervision for 18 months."
Making it worse is the fact that in many cases the jail time is only the 48 hours required by state law. After that, offenders often are sent home on GPS monitoring bracelets, O'Leary said.
The threat of jail time is "the key we're missing in the OWI court, because of our use and continued use of electronic monitoring," O'Leary said. "We're more concerned with costs than with public safety."
Judge Richard Werner at the meeting said he feels like inmates he has requested not have bracelet privileges are in jail for only a few months.
"The sheriff has said that if you don't want them to be on the monitor, make that statement," Werner said. "They might stay three months. I don't think I should have to put people in prison to just to make sure they're there."
Spoden was not at Thursday's meeting. Afterward, he told The Gazette over the phone that he supports the idea of alcohol-monitoring bracelets for repeat OWI offenders.
He also defended his use of GPS bracelets as an alternative to incarceration. He upholds requests from judges or the district attorney's office to not release some inmates on bracelets, Spoden said.
The exception would be when a judge gives an inmate Huber privileges, Spoden said.
"If they give them Huber and they fit our criteria for going out (on a monitoring bracelet), they're going to go out," Spoden said.
Moore thinks members of the CJCC are motivated to find ways to keep repeat OWI offenders off the roads. Using alcohol-monitoring bracelets to discourage them from drinking could be a solution, Moore said.
"Take a look at a repeat drunken driver that is involved in a crash with injury or death," Moore said. "The proximate cause is use of alcohol and driving. That's the cause, the problem lying in wait. And the predictable part of it is alcohol use.
"Predictable is preventable."