DWI penalties prove harsher

Drunken driving arrests down, but those caught pay price

June 14, 1999 - Drunken driving arrests in 1997 were down from 10 years before, but the severity of penalties increased. Of those convicted of driving while intoxicated in 1997, 454,500 were on probation, 41,100 were in local jails and 17,600 were in state prisons. In 1986, 270,000 people were behind bars or on probation for DWI.


Arrests for drunken driving dropped during the same period - from 1.8 million in 1986 to 1.5 million in 1997 - said a Justice Department study. This occurred as the number of licensed drivers increased nearly 15 percent, to 183 million.

For every 1,000 DWI arrests in 1997, 347 offenders were jailed or placed on probation - up from 151 in 1986, according to the study. In its survey based on interviews with the offenders and record-gathering, the Justice Department concluded:

- People convicted of DWI are about five years older, better educated and more often white than those convicted of other crimes. Men account for over 90 percent of DWI offenders in jail.

- DWI offenders in local jails were serving sentences of 11 months on average, while state prisoners had sentences averaging 49 months.

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