The holiday season is a time for family gatherings, office parties and get-togethers. It is also the deadliest and most dangerous time to be on roadways.
John Rupp, drug court commissioner for the 24th Judicial Circuit, said drunk and drugged drivers present a serious risk to everyone.
“It gets worse this time of year — Thanksgiving through New Year’s,” he said.
Statistics show 25 to 28 people are killed in drunk driving crashes per day on average in December.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, in 2011, 209 individuals were killed and 3,630 were injured in alcohol-related traffic crashes.
About 30 state and local officials gathered Friday at the St. Francois County Courthouse Annex to commemorate — not only the proclamation of National Impaired Driving Prevention Month — but the formation of DWI courts for each county in the 24th Judicial Circuit, which includes St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Madison, and Washington counties.
Similar to drug court, which has existed in the 24th Judicial Circuit since 2007, DWI courts focus on alcohol-related offenses. In 2010, Missouri legislation established DWI courts which can provide limited driving privileges.
Rupp said a DWI court is being formed in the circuit for each of the counties. They have already accepted one DWI court participant in Washington County.
Paula Hendrix of Office of State Courts Administrator has been helping Rupp and Drug Court Administrator Laurie Wood start the DWI court. Hendrix said in past years, the judicial system has been tough on the crime but they haven’t been “smart” on it.
Those who are sent to prison for DWI offenses often come out and re-offend. Drug and DWI courts, which offers punishment along with a intense treatment program, lowers the likelihood of reoffending and helps the offender, as well as his or her family. It is also more cost-effective than prison.
DWI court participants will be recommended by prosecutors in the counties. Participants will have DWI convictions and will have to pay restitution, and fees and fines.
He said drug court trackers will visit homes of participants at least twice a week to test for alcohol and make sure participants are following the rules. Members of the DWI court team will include Southeast Missouri Behavioral Health counselors, Missouri State Highway Patrol, prosecutors and Probation and Parole.
Participants who are granted a limited driving privilege will have an ignition lock system installed on their vehicles. There are other limitations and restrictions that come with the privilege. They can only operate the vehicle if they have a valid license, insurance and safe operating vehicle.
Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said drug courts are a good solution. He said people are being punished but they are also treated and helped to become productive members of society.
Attending the proclamation were State Rep. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill; Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi; and Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, Troopers Juston Wheetley and Dustin Reed, as well as local judges, police officers and area county commissioners. Kenney presented Rupp with a House of Representatives resolution for the DWI court.
Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at email@example.com.