Twenty-three people died on Vermont's roads in 2012 in crashes involving alcohol.
"Repeat DUI offenders have maimed and killed innocent Vermonters for a long time," said Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Governor Shumlin Monday announced plans to tackle the deadly stats with a new statewide effort to create a court-based DUI treatment program. "The evidence of the DUI treatment dockets that we will be creating, similar to the drug court model, will help impaired drivers overcome their addiction through close judicial monitoring of their treatment and swift sanctions and rewards," he said.
The program would have repeat offenders participate in regular visits with the courts and probation following their release in addition to formal treatment. State's Attorney Robert Sand has seen success with a similar effort in Windsor County and is joining the Department of Public Safety to oversee the effort. "There is something about returning on a regular basis to court to speak to a judge -- that nationally we have learned -- makes a significant difference in helping people recover from addiction," Sand said.
Sand said the state is ready to play hardball and if offenders fail to meet treatment plans they'll be headed back behind bars. "On the other hand, if that is not something you are willing to do, then we can show you again to the doors of the correctional facility," he said.
Right now Vermont spends roughly $54,000 a year to keep a non-violent DUI offender in prison. Shumlin said the new "treatment courts" could save the state half that -- mainly because offenders will spend less time in prison.
"We now have the distinction of spending as a state more on corrections than we do on higher education," Shumlin said.
The DUI treatment program is being funded with federal dollars for the next three years.
Sand will formally take over his new role as head of the program in March. He estimates roughly 30-percent of drivers with DUIs are repeat offenders.