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Felony DUI law in effect; prison alcohol treatment not ready

Colorado recently put into effect a felony DUI law, but those sentenced to prison under its provisions might not receive treatment for alcohol abuse while behind bars. According to a Denver TV station, the state's correctional system is a year and a half behind in treatment of prisoners locked up for alcohol-related offenses.

A reporter attending a parole hearing for a drunk driver convicted of killing two people found out the man had not received substance abuse counseling in his 11 years behind bars. The prisoner asked to attend alcohol treatment classes, but was told he didn't need to take them.

The woman whose husband and daughter were killed in the crash said the news that the man had not gotten the treatment he sought "made me really sad." She added that "the one thing that I asked at (his) sentencing hearing was that he be given every chance to have rehabilitation."

A Department of Corrections spokesperson said there are finite resources available and that the waiting list for help at just one prison stretches to nearly 200 prisoners.

Rep. Beth McCann, a sponsor of the felony DUI law, said funding for in-prison alcohol treatment will be taken up next year, the TV station reported.

This is one of the issues that opponents of the law brought up repeatedly: the underlying problem with people who get four or more DUIs is alcohol abuse. That problem will not be solved by locking people up; substance abuse needs to be clinically addressed.

Because prison is not mandated by the felony DUI statute, a criminal defense attorney can present the court with arguments and evidence that treatment is more effective than incarceration. Also, treatment will be less costly to taxpayers than locking offenders away for years.

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