Many people, myself included, love breaking the monotony of their everyday lives with the occasional hotel getaway. People associate hotels with vacation, room service, and spas. At least in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, hotels can now be associated with a DUI sentence.
Allegheny County offers a hotel stay as an alternative jail program for first-time DUI offenders with 72-hour jail sentences. The hotel stay is not your average hotel stay. The program, held at two participating hotels, is a three-day and three-night program where, during the stay, offenders participate in compulsory evaluations, alcohol educations programs, and other treatment sessions.
Deputy Director of Allegheny County Adult Probation and Parole, Ronald Seyko, said of the program, “This was an avenue we pursued to have offenders meet their mandatory requirements and get their treatment education and reduce the burden on the system.”
The program’s benefit, other than reduce the stress on overcrowding jails, is that offenders can serve the time over the weekend which would allow them to only miss one day of work. In addition, instead of having the burden of attending months of treatment and education classes, the offender can complete sentencing requirements during the short stay. Often offenders violate probation because they cannot comply, through no fault of their own, with the strict requirement usually placed on offenders such as attend classes three times a week for several months.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has said that the hotel stay is not an enjoyable experience. He continued, “They call it a hotel, but your freedom is taken away.”
Not surprisingly, Zappala’s statement was of little comfort to opponents like Anna Duerr, a spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.). She said, “There is no science to show that sentencing convicted drunk drivers to serve time in a hotel helps to stop repeat offenses.”
While her statement that hotels do not curb repeat offenses is correct, she fails to acknowledge that classes and treatment seminars do curb repeat offenses. To be eligible, offenders must have little or no criminal record. Do we really need to stigmatize them by sending them to jail?
Pittsburg attorney David J. Shrager said, “Human beings can make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that we need to put them in jail and throw away the key. Driving under the influence is a serious crime, but [jail is] not necessarily the best place for these people to receive the treatment they need.”
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