DRUNK, BROKE: DUI program preps for big growth spurt

November 15, 2008
It doesn't take much alcohol to attract the unwelcome attention of the law.

It doesn't take much alcohol to attract the unwelcome attention of the law.


PART ONE: Gold in the pockets of boozing drivers

While law enforcement prepares the handcuffs, officials are predicting arrests in this county for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will set new records this holiday season.

And as a direct consequence, local health professionals will see double-digit percentage increases in revenue wrested from imbibing vehicle operators.

Even one for the road can leave a costly aftertaste these days.

Catching and curing such impaired drivers is big business in California, and San Luis Obispo County is no exception. In fact, health officials here are making plans to accommodate more offenders soon, in even more facilities.

How big is the DUI business? A first-time charge of DUI can cost an individual thousands of dollars to defend; a conviction will total at least $10,000, and probably a lot more. After that first offense, the sky’s the limit, both in financial costs and escalating jail or prison time.

So, should you become part of this county’s ever-growing, on-the-road-while-under-the-influence brigade, you can find solace in your immeasurable contribution to a growing industry – court-mandated drug and alcohol diversion programs. In this county, a judge will likely order a convicted drunk driver into counseling as part of sentencing conditions. This fee-based service is meant to help petty drug and alcohol offenders avoid incarceration. And around here, violators will be directed to the SLO County Public Health Department’s Drug and Alcohol Services.

That isn’t the cakewalk it might seem. Counseling classes, according to some of the program’s so-called “clients,” can be the most trying part of the whole ordeal.

Participation in the program won’t be cheap, either; the self-supporting special revenue DUI fund center has an annual operating budget of about $1.5 million, and officials claim 97 percent of that is paid by program participants. This is one of the few counties in California to operate such a program. While its budget total has remained relatively steady over the past several years, county officials expect the program’s rolls to swell by 10 percent this fiscal year.

And DAS gross revenues should be increasing proportionally. To fund this county’s program, for example, those convicted of a “wet and reckless” charge (driving with a blood alcohol content of less than .08) or young adult first offender will pay about $300 for six 2-hour classes and attend five Alcoholics Anonymous or self-help meetings. An adult first offender will pay $656 and attend twice the number of classes; and repeat offenders will be charged more than $2,000 for an intensive program lasting 26 weeks.

“The increase in revenue is primarily due to increased client visits in the ‘Second Chance’ program,” wrote County Administrator David Edge in his budget report to supervisors last summer.

These are people with two or more DUI convictions, and their numbers are swelling because of increasing law enforcement, according data produced by the county’s Substance Abuse Policy Committee. San Luis Obispo County has a statewide reputation for being tough on drinking drivers, ranking consistently higher in arrest numbers than the California average.

The county’s DUI program is limited to about 2,600 annual adult participants, and 3,400 youthful offenders. It is administered by a staff of 14, nine of whom are classified as drug and alcohol specialists. There are branches in four county locales: San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Atascadero, and Arroyo Grande. Nipomo is being considered as a fifth site, thanks to the anticipated hike in DUI arrest revenue.

Specialists conduct educational classes and earn $3,330 to $5,600 monthly. And to their “clients,” they are, for the duration of classes, the most important and powerful individuals in the world.

NEXT: What happens when counselors offend the offenders?



  1. ccn_debate says:

    By: SLO_DOC on 11/19/08
    It is interesting to note that a recurrent theme among alcohol abusers or alcoholics is the inability for this group of people to take responsibility for their own actions. Talk to any recovered alcoholic and they will confirm what a pervasive trait this is amongst them. Here, in this blog, we see a strikingly similar theme among those who complain about the DUI laws. They either are not intelligent enough or cannot see thru their own problematic personality traits to realize that the laws are in place to try to save lives.

    The statistics involving alcohol being a factor in fatal crashes is staggering to the point of where anyone who argues against it likely falls into one of the two categories above.

    How many of you complainers have had the responsibility to attempt to save some child or loved ones life but cutting them open and making futile attempts to get their heart to beat again? How many of you had to then walk into the room FULL of family members, parents, etc, and tell them their loved one is dead and you couldn't do anything to change that? Get real people, drinking and driving KILLS people everyday. It is NOT your right to drink and drive, period.
    By: Countdown on 11/19/08
    Using a cockeyed source to promote a cockeyed viewpoint IMO. That site was a joke.
    Just don't drink and drive, what don't you understand about that simple idea?
    Or drink and drive and risk killing yourself. If it was just killing yourself that would be great but unfortunately drunk drivers end up killing innocent people more often than themselves.
    I had no idea the sordid history of AA and how ineffective it was. A short time on the computer and I know more than I ever wanted to know about it.
    Joe and Norske had this one right. I bought in to the AA is best because that is all you hear. What a racket and what a mistake.
    Thanks to this article and some of these responses I am now leaning to stricter DUI laws.
    Drink all you want, what care I. But I don't care if you can tell if you are at .08 or not. All I care about is you knew you would be drinking and then you decide to drive. You deserve all the penalties in the world as far as I am concerned and all of these excuses are just sick.
    By: AlcoholicsAnonymous on 11/19/08

    I suggest that anyone interested in DUI and its severity read this link. The current laws are unrealistic. It was originally posted here a few days ago.
    By: Joe on 11/19/08
    The only proven statistics are/is, that AA is just as effective as if someone were to quit on their own… and that is a rock given fact… swear to rock it is…. so help me, may rock strike me dead where I stand if I am not telling the truth.
    By: Norske on 11/19/08
    If AA works for a person, great. The important thing is to find something that works. Still, to think that AA is the most productive or successful is to be naive IMO.
    AA has had problems ever since Bill Wilson and Bob Smith split off from the Oxford Group Movement "OGM" in the mid 30's.
    Rather than me give a tutorial on the many myths and foilables connected with AA, I would urge all those with the need to do a little DD and look for yourself.
    AA achieves most of it's new members by way of coercion via the judicial system of cities and counties. It is voluntary in the way that paying taxes is voluntary.
    There are many alternatives that are more effective but I am loathe to recommend one over the other. There are several that are free or based on a small {$2.00} donation. A few minutes on the computer should tell you all that you would want to know. Then again, if AA works for you then by all means keep attending. But it might be worthwhile to attend different groups to see if you prefer one over the other. Don't drink and drive. Peace

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  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Cindy on 11/18/08
    I am among one of the people noted as posting similar to others. First I'll say that my opinion is my own. 2nd I'll say that in no way have I insinuated that people shouldn't take responsibility for a DUI offense. I have pointed out that DUI seems to be more about county revenues and an excuse to create more unnecessary government jobs (the last thing we all need) rather than working towards a real solution. I posted about breathalysers located in all establishments that serve alcohol. Joe has made an excellent point about liability. I was thinking about something provided by the government rather than the actual business owners. Sort of something like a pay phone set up. The person drops in their quarters and a disposable mouth interface drops out to be attached to the machine by the tester. The machine has instructions that warns a person that they should wait 20 minutes after their last drink otherwise they might not have reached their maximum BAC. If college kids want to have fun with the machine and see who is the highest BAC, so be it. Its more money for the government. Something like that would protect law abiding citizens from making a mistake. The money spent on DAS would be better spent for something like this. And again AA works and its free. Go Figure. Gee did I just end this post the same way that paperboy ended his?
    By: Newsome on 11/18/08
    About the similarities of the posters:

    I am but one of them, and I don't condone drunk driving.

    But I do believe DUI somehow got a fire lit under it in terms of enforcement and prosecution. More so than strong arm robbery, growing dope on public lands, selling meth, and all manner of potentially dangerous and illegal choices people make.

    Again, I do not believe DUI is a good choice. But I believe the crime is committed when the accident occurs. In much the same way that guns are not illegal until they are used for an illegal activity.
    By: ThomasPaine on 11/18/08
    Good pickup Bluebird. I was beginning to wonder how so many people kept making excuses and trying to justify DUI. Just don't seem right that so many could be so dense.
    By: Bluebird on 11/18/08
    Anyone else been thinking what I have been thinking and that is one person is logging in using different names to express basically the same opinion. Check out the similarity in opinion and language between Martin W., Nancy, Carol Anne, Cindy, Laura and Rany. It also sounds like the author is dealing with a DUI and doesn't want to take responsibility for his/her actions.
    By: Joe on 11/18/08
    Testing is subjective.

    The machines in bars are gone, the liability isn't worth it. If I down 3 beers and then use the machine, my BAC isn't going to start to rise for 10 or 20 minutes, so when I leave the bar "OK" then get pulled over on the other side of town, the nothing I got at the bar is now a 0.12.
    The lawsuits back on the bar and the manufacturer of the testing machine… well, they sounded like a good idea.

    Blood tests are subjective also.
    Some look for dissolved alcohol, some look for liver activity and unless the test is from the same maker and same lot, I wouldn't expect exact results.

    Here is a real life experiment in California.


    Oh, and Gibley's? That is to gin what MD 20/20 is to wine.
    By: BobMclemon on 11/17/08
    There are devices out there that work just fine. Bars used to have them also.
    My neighbor had one on his truck for 1 yr. due to several DUI's and he hasn't had a drink since. You can bye them and attach them to your vehicle and you have to blow cleanly before the vehicle will start. Good idea, especially as much as some of the people here seem to like to drink.

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  3. ccn_debate says:

    Member Opinions:
    By: Norske on 11/19/08
    While I don't have much sympathy for those who choose to drink and drive, I do have understanding for those who are caught up in the DUI web due to prescription medication.
    Certain prescription medications are crowding in on alcohol as a major cause of traffic accidents, most notably the sleepers such as Zolpidem. Often these people have no significant history of drinking alcohol or abusing drugs, yet they have to attend the same DUI classes as people with alcohol issues.
    Zolpidem has a side effect of inducing short term amnesia in certain individuals and people so inclined have been known to drive for miles with no inkling of where they are or how they got there.
    These unfortunate few however are not to be confused with people who have been arrested multiple times for the same offense, which I have seen several times much to my amazement. Go figure.

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