Thursday, May 16, 2013

The New DWI DIVERT Program in Harris County, Texas

A new DWI intervention program has been created here in Harris County - one that offers first time DWI defendants a chance to keep their record clean. How will it do that? By offering to delay their trial for a year while they undergo an intense treatment program that, if completed, will result in no conviction being placed on their record. This is simply DIVERT reincarnate.  If you recall, current Harris County District Attorney, Mike Anderson said that he would abolish DIVERT.  He certainly did do that…for 3 months!  The DIVERT name has been abolished, but the program looks to be same with some new wrinkles. I welcome this program back with open arms, but until I see the new contract I am skeptical that it will be any different.
I know what you're probably thinking, "Great! Just what Harris County needs - a program that lets drunk drivers stay on the road." If so, let me reassure you that that's not the case. Why not? Because of the following safeguards:
  1. There's a screening process - This is not an automatic offer to all first-time defendents. For example if the incident involved a death, the defendent is automatically ineligible for the program. For the rest, there is a screening process. If they pass the screening, then the program is offered as a possible alternative - not before.
  2. There are safeguards in place - While the goal of the program may be treatment, it's not just a counseling program. In addition to classes that deal with drug abuse and several levels of treatment, the program also does urine analyses and electronic monitoring. In other words, it's not just show up for counseling/therapy sessions and go about your life as you please the rest of the time. There are accountability measures in place.
  3. There are no second chances - And finally, once the defendant is in the program he/she is given one chance to succeed and one chance only. Any violations and he's out, without the opportunity to re-enter; and his trial will continue as planned.

So why is this program being offered? With it costing about one-fifth of what a trial costs, money is certainly a part of it. But the bigger reason is the hope of preventing future DWIs. Melissa Munoz, with the district attorney's office and the one in charge of the program, probably said it best when she said:

We are trying to get people who are in need of assistance and need help with their alcohol and their drug abuse problems. .... we're taking as many measures as we can to make sure that [they] .... get the help that they need.
In other words, the hope is that if we can help people get the treatment they need early on, there will be fewer DWIs down the road. And that's a goal that's worth working toward