Follow by Email

"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."

- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist

"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."

-Alfred North Whitehead

June 7, 2010

A Challenging Task

In July, Wisconsin law relating to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated will be changing. The legislature has responded to calls to reduce the property damage, injuries, and deaths resulting from unsafe driving by individuals who are intoxicated. I will use the next several entries discussing this issue.

Researchers have estimated that legally intoxicated drivers are fifteen times more likely than non-drinking drivers to cause a fatal crash. Individuals with alcohol in their system are eight times more likely than drivers without alcohol in their system to cause a fatal crash. Levitt, Steven D., and Jack Porter, 1999, “Estimating the Effect of Alcohol on Driver Risk Using Only Fatal Accident Statistics”, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBR Working Paper, No. 6944. The legislative changes are an attempt to reduce the risk of citizens being injured or killed by an intoxicated driver.

The task of reducing intoxicated drivers is a difficult one. First, the problem involves changing individual habits related to the use of intoxicants and driving. As anyone knows, changing anyone’s behavior, including our own, is very difficult. Further, in Wisconsin, drinking alcohol is part of the warp and woof of our culture. Cultural change is also difficult.

But secondly, the implementation of government policies related to operating while intoxicated is also difficult. The effectiveness of government policy is often largely dependent on the effectiveness of its implementation. (See. Eggers, William D. and John O’Leary, If We Can Put a Man on the Moon… Getting Big Things Done in Government, Harvard Business Press, 2009. )

The implementers of operating while intoxicated reduction policies are not only in different agencies within different levels of the same branch of government, but are in different branches of government altogether. The detection of drunk drivers is the responsibility of police agencies that are part of state, county, city, or town government. The prosecution of non-criminal cases (most operating while intoxicated first offenses), is the responsibility of individual local prosecutors that again are part of state, county, city, or town government. The prosecution of criminal operating while intoxicated cases is the responsibility of individual local district attorney offices that are part of state and county government. Public and private attorneys represent and counsel the defendants.

The adjudication of these cases, including imposing sentences, is the responsibility of individual municipal and circuit court judges in the judicial branch. Any prison or probationary sentence will then involve correctional staff and probation agents with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Any jail sentence will involve the policies of the local sheriff’s department. Any required counseling involves private and public agencies and counselors. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is involved with any license revocation, and issuing of occupational licenses. Private companies will be providing ignition interlock devices.

For this system to be effective, i.e. reduce the likelihood of a re-offense, every individual actor within each level must know what he or she should do and how to do it. Each individual actor must understand his or her role in the system, and not, as Eggers and O’Leary warn, operate within their own “silos” without coordination with the other actors.

The Wisconsin legislature has provided the judiciary with additional tools to attempt to address the problem. Two of these tools have a focus on treatment. Courts will now be allowed to sentence defendants to a probationary sentence on second and third offenses—sentences that are not available now. Further, counties will be able to opt into reduced jail sentences conditioned on successful completion of probation and treatment.

Probation and treatment will cost taxpayer money. Success is in no way a foregone conclusion. None of the actors alone will be responsible for any success or failure. The problem is too big and the system too large. Success will only be possible if participants understand the entire system and then intelligently execute their integrated part.

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

No comments:

Post a Comment