At a cost of $30 a day per inmate, Utah County spent thousands of dollars last year on jail terms for 1,300 ordered to serve time for driving under the influence of alcohol.
But while jail terms keep people off the bottle and the streets at least as long as they're in jail, incarceration is not a substitute for treating alcoholism and drug addiction, county Substance Abuse Director Bruce Berdick told county commissioners Wednesday.Berdick is proposing a new program that will provide intensive short-term treatment in lieu of jail time, or treatment following jail. He said the program will be self-funding.
"There are some people who could benefit greatly by going to a treatment class rather than to jail," he said. "These are people that may or may not get treatment other than going to jail."
According to the proposal, "Some of these offenders do their jail time but return later after repeating the same offense. In many cases, these individuals continue to deny their loss of control over alcohol, possibly because they have never been assertively taught the inherent dangers of alcohol and drug addictions."
In some cases, however, "we may recommend that they go back to jail" following the program, Berdick said.
The Alternative to Jail Program would provide 16 hours of intensive education and therapy, including assessing a person's addiction level, recognizing relapse signs and knowing how to handle them, enhancing appropriate family communication and developing long- and short-term goals.
Berdick said his proposal has received support from at least one circuit court judge. Commissioner Gary Anderson welcomed the proposal, but Commissioner Brent Morris expressed doubts.
Treatment is needed, he said, but the county shouldn't eliminate the deterrence offered by making people spend time in jail.
"It would be softening our stand on alcohol-related offenses. I think there needs to be a hard line," he said. "I guess I am opposed to it."
"Putting someone in jail doesn't stop them from drinking," he said. "Incarceration is not a substitute for treatment."
Anderson said he feels the penal system isn't working and that some type of alternative is needed to treat drug and alcohol offenders.
"I think this may work," he said, adding that more input is needed from judges. "If the judges buy off on this, I have no problem."
Commissioners are expected to discuss the proposal further next week before voting whether to accept it.
Berdick said offenders would fund the program by paying $200 fines assessed by local judges. If only one-fourth of the DUI jail population was referred to the program, the program would generate about $60,000 yearly.
"By the beginning of the second full year, the program should be not only making budget but also generating a profit to assist in other programs within the Department of Substance Abuse," the proposal says. "The initial introduction of the Jail Alternative Class into the community will require gaining the support of the courts, attorneys and other county departments. It will need to be seen as a resourceful, efficient approach to a unique problem in the county."