Williamson County DWI/Drug Court to Rehabilitate and Offer Redemption

June 28, 2006 – Williamson County has proposed a new program to combat repeat drunk drivers from getting on the roadways and keep the DWI charge off these drivers’ criminal record. That’s right, the new program aims to rehabilitate people and offer them a chance at redemption. The new program, dubbed DWI/Drug Court, is structured to accommodate anywhere from 30 to 60 people and would require participants to undergo treatment, weekly court appearances, and regular drug tests for six to nine months. If the participants complete the program the charges are dropped – if they fail, they return to jail and face the original charges. 
Williamson County Court-at-Law No. 2 Judge Tim Wright, supporter of the new program, and one of the two judges that will ultimately preside over the DWI/Drug Court, told the Austin-American Statesman, “It’s about using the legal system to help people, not just punish them.” Not everyone shares Judge Wright’s sentiments – the Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving fear that the program would make punishing repeat offenders who successfully completed the program nearly impossible. Judge Wright countered that, while the concern is valid, the program’s main aim is to give these people the tools to learn how to deal with their problems and make better choices. This is not the first program of its kind, and the results for other programs across the state are impressive – two out of three participants who graduate from the program never commit another drug or alcohol-related crime. 
The DWI/Drug Court is aimed to lower the cost of drunk driving for taxpayers as well. Safer roadways mean less money out of taxpayers’ pockets, and the new program will be funded, hopefully, by a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division, applied for by Williamson County one month ago. Estimates show the program will need another $35,000 to $40,000 in order to run, which Judge Wright said would be covered by participant fees. 
While the DWI/Drug Court definitely has its supporters, MADD – Texas and other advocates the support tougher drunk-driving penalties remain firmly on the other side of the fence. MADD – Texas’ executive director, Karen Housewright, would more readily accept the program if the defenders were forced to plead guilty to the charges before participating in the DWI/Drug Court and/or keeping the charge on their record in some form or fashion. Again, the fear is the inability to more harshly punish repeat offenders. Rick Zinsmeyer, director of adult probation for Williamson County, supports the program and insists that no one wants to promote repeat offenders or let them off with a lesser punishment because of a lack of records, but voices the point once more that the program should teach them the tools they need to make the right choices about drinking and driving. 
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