Louisiana could do a lot more to curb the number of people who drive drunk and endanger others, including inputting every arrest in a statewide database, Lafayette officials said Monday.
Other measures range from trying more to modify Louisiana’s laissez-faire attitude toward getting drunk and implementing programs to get the hard-core drinkers off the roads, court and law enforcement officials said at a forum.
“The most important thing that Louisiana needs is a database,” Lafayette City Court Judge Douglas Saloom said.
Such a list of people arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated would alert police and prosecutors to someone’s arrests in other parishes, information that does not always cross parish lines.
Though the database has been sought for years by court and police officials, the Legislature has yet to finance and implement it. Such an endeavor would necessitate connecting city courts and state district courts via common computer software, and having personnel in each court input the cases.
In a forum sponsored by the Acadiana Press Club, Saloom joined Lafayette Parish Correctional Center Warden Rob Reardon; John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission; Jacob Corbell, director of specialty programs for the 15th Judicial District Court; and Rachel Goudeau, of The Knowledge Effect, a part of Lafayette Consolidated Government that works to stem substance abuse.
Saloom addresses first-offense and second-offense drunk drivers in Lafayette City Court, while third- and fourth-offense defendants appear in state court.
In the 15th JDC, hard-core drunk drivers often end up in Judge Thomas Duplantier’s courtroom, where they take part in the newly formed “Sobriety Court,” a local name for what’s usually called OWI court or drug court, Corbell said. He said court officials are collecting data now to measure the program’s effectiveness.
Those appearing before Duplantier have the option of going to jail or entering an 18-month program where their sobriety is mandated. They wear an ankle bracelet called SCRAM, which stands for “secure continuous remote monitoring.” The bracelet monitors the skin for elevated levels of alcohol.
Those who stick to the program — stay away from alcohol, keep their jobs, show up for court sessions — are rewarded.
Those who do not are berated, punished and sometimes sent to jail, Corbell said.
SCRAM monitoring is expensive, with a cost of $10 a day for a monthly tab of about $300 — a fee the defendant is required to pay if he’s able, Corbell said.
Reardon, who runs the Lafayette Parish prison system that incarcerates 900-plus inmates at a time, said the rehabilitation program is not as expensive as throwing defendants in jail.
In Lafayette Parish, it costs $54 a day to incarcerate an inmate, he said.
Goudeau said stemming deaths from drunk driving crashes should start with changing Louisianans’ attitude about alcohol. Goudeau pointed out the ease to which drinking and driving is done here, where drive-through daiquiri shops populate the roads, especially in south Louisiana.
“There’s no one single thing that’s going to fix this,” Reardon said. “It’s going to be small, little bites.”