RENO " A new program being established in Washoe County will provide third-time DUI offenders a chance to participate in an intense, court-supervised treatment program instead of going to prison.
Expected to start in mid-December, the program will be available to people arrested for DUI for the third time in seven years " a crime that generally carries a mandatory prison sentence " provided no deaths or injuries were involved.
Under a new state law, district courts are authorized to provide supervised treatment and rehab for three years to third-time offenders.
Those who succeed would have the felony charge converted to a third DUI misdemeanor. Those who fail go to prison.
Washoe District Court Chief Judge Jerry Polaha said about 50 people are waiting to enroll. The court expects to supervise about 250 a year.
"There's nothing that breaks more hearts than alcohol " more than all other drugs put together," said Senior District Judge Peter Breen, who has overseen the district drug court since 1995.
"And part of this is public safety," Breen said. "They are driving next to you or your children."
While concerned about future costs, county commissioners on Tuesday accepted a $100,000 state grant to help pay for a new program coordinator for the first three years. The program covers drunk drivers as well as those under the influence of illegal drugs or both.
"It's going to help save lives. It's going to change lives," Sandy Heverly, a victims advocate for STOP DUI in Las Vegas, told commissioners.
Heverly said people convicted of a third DUI offense are sentenced to serve one to six years in prison and receive no treatment.
"The reality is you don't throw away the key and they are back on the street in a short period of time," she said.
Clark County District Court has informally offered DUI court for nine years and other Clark County courts offer it as well, said John Johansen, who specializes in traffic safety for the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
As a condition, he said people pay court fees as well as pay for their counseling, making the program self-supporting.
In the Las Vegas Township Justice Court, Johansen said 214 people have graduated from its DUI court since 2004. These people came in with a combined record of 671 DUI arrests, 94 domestic violence arrests and 400 other arrests.
Since 2004, Johansen said the group has had 22 DUI arrests, 13 domestic violence arrests and 16 other arrests.
"That's a tremendous savings just in court costs and an incalculable saving in danger on the highways and in domestic violence."
Under the three-year program, the state law requires participants:
" To have an addiction treatment plan including weekly individual and group counseling sessions and attend weekly Alcohol Anonymous meetings.
" To complete six months of house arrest.
" Install a breath ignition interlock device on their cars or a "Club" device.
" To check in regularly with court staff and make regular appearances in court.
Commissioners said the state should provide permanent funding for the new felony DUI treatment court because of the big cost savings for state prisons.
Breen said he will apply for grants to operate the new court and promised to help lobby the Legislature for permanent funding.