Program helps steer DWI defenders straight

Curry County DWI Probation Officer Steve Hawkins looks over the files of his active caseload that includes 237 DWI offenders. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

His message is carried on a sheet of loose-leaf paper, ripped from a notebook, its edges torn.

“Thank you,” it reads, in small, cursive letters, “(for not) giving up on me and throwing away the key.”

Her message is delivered in ink, in the sterile, even letters of a computer.

“Although we make bad decisions, we are not bad people,” it reads. “We need to think about how our decisions affect the other people in our lives.”

These are the responses of a 26-year-old, formerly unemployed man, and a Texas school teacher.

Both authors were caught driving while intoxicated on nearby roads, and both are graduates of a pilot program for DWI offenders called Framework for Change.

Curry County DWI Probation Officer Steve Hawkins solicited their thoughts on the program. Gray-haired and soft-spoken, the retired policeman is buried with work.

He currently is monitoring 237 DWI offenders.

Along with Magistrate Judges Doug Miller and Richard Hollis, Hawkins lobbied to create an educational program for those who drink and drive.
What emerged was Framework, a 16-hour behavior modification course offered through Clovis Community College.

Participants are sentenced to attend the $100 course if caught drinking and driving in Curry County. The expense of the course is drawn from their own pockets, and upon completion of the program, they earn a college credit.

“We hope it serves as a catalyst for positive change,” said Judith Spillane, Clovis Community College business and non-credit training coordinator.

The program, unprecedented in the state, has dramatically reduced recidivism, according to magistrate officials.

Miller estimates about 60 DWI offenders are arrested in Curry County every 90 days. Before the adoption of Framework, about four were rearrested for driving while intoxicated within the 90-day period. Since the program was implemented six months ago, none of its graduates has been rearrested, Miller said.

Long-term studies are needed to truly gauge the success of the program, Miller said. Nonetheless, he is a strong advocate of Framework, designed by a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, Gordon Graham.

“Education is the only way we can solve this problem (DWI),” Miller said. “Sentencing alone won’t stop a person from driving drunk again.”

Curry County has one of the stiffest fines for drunken driving in New Mexico, according to Miller. A second DWI citation carries a 30-day jail sentence in the county, while in others across the state, the sentence is seven days, he said. The strict penalties do make a difference, Miller said. Curry County has one of the lowest repeat DWI offense rates in the state, he said.

Still, magistrate officials hope to decrease the number.
“To me,” said Hawkins, “driving while intoxicated is the most violent crime there is, but our society doesn’t address it that way.”

About 25,000 people are killed every year in the U.S. as a result of drinking and driving, Hawkins said.
“If a person wants to drink,” Hawkins said, “I don’t condemn them. But you have to separate drinking from driving.”

“Our society condones alcohol use, and it is hard to make a change.”
The underpinning of Framework is change, according to its advocates. Participants identify their problems and learn how they can change their habits, Spillane said.

The 26-year-old, who penned his review of Framework in cursive letters, has turned his life around, according to Hawkins. He is employed and hasn’t passed through the courts since he graduated, Hawkins said.