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Advocates Call for Rehabilitation for Tennessee DUI Offenders

When a person is convicted of a crime some people feel the focus should be on punishing that person through fines and jail time. While sometimes this may be appropriate, many times treatment and rehabilitation are needed to get at the root cause of the problem, particularly with drug and alcohol offenses.

With regard to DUI offenses in Tennessee, currently judges only have the option to order rehab on a second-offense DUI conviction. Now some are advocating that judges should also have that option for first-time DUI offenders, and that more judges should order treatment instead of jail time for second-time offenders.

Advocates make the case that treatment more effectively prevents repeat drunk drivers compared to incarceration. In 2011, 16,894 people were convicted of DUIs in Tennessee. Roughly one quarter of these were repeat offenders.

"All jail does it build resentment while you're in toward the police and the state," explained one Tennessee DUI offender who recently successfully completed treatment. "It can create self resentment too. You don't come out of jail saying, 'Well, I'm going to be a productive member of society.' In treatment you come out with a better outlook on life. And a plan."

Treatment is also generally less expensive than incarceration. To jail a person in Knox County it costs $74 per day, to incarcerate a person with the Tennessee Department of Correction it costs $62 per day. According to the Chief Deputy of the Knox County Sheriff's Office, it costs almost $300,000 to keep the top six DUI offenders in the county in jail. Since the first three offenders received their first DUIs in 1999, the group has been incarcerated a combined 4,005 days.

There is also a concern that there are not enough alcohol and drug treatment facilities in Tennessee. There are only about 200 providers in the state, about 75 of which are in East Tennessee. This results in many centers having long waiting lists, especially for people who don't have insurance or the ability to pay.

Source: knoxnews.com, "On the road to recovery: Most agree rehabilitation helps tackle problem," Natalie Neysa Alund, June 20, 2012.

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