10,000. That’s how many people die each year in the United States thanks to drunk drivers.
32%. That’s the number of people around the nation who get a DUI and then get a second, third, or more.
Its a growing problem that one local judge has been working to stop for more than 10 years, and he’s making a difference.
“You do see the same people over and over again,” says Judge Gregory Fowler. “You start to learn their names after a while.”
Those people, the multiple time DUI offenders, and the desire to make a difference in their lives are why Judge Greg Fowler started Chatham County DUI court back in 2003.
“You see people going to jail serving their time, they get out of jail and haven’t learned anything about their disease,” said Judge Fowler. “They haven’t learned anything about how to stop drinking. they just go back to what they were doing.”
So this program is designed to teach the convicted multi-time offenders something about alcohol and themselves. That happens through treatment, drug screenings and more jail time if necessary. tough love with a purpose.
“Its getting all the players in place, and putting all those resources together and spending time with that individual,” explained the Judge. “As time goes on they learn we are not really the bad guys, we are being hard because that’s the only way to change their behavior.”
It is working. The National average for multiple time DUI arrestees to re-offend is 32%.
For the 1200 people who have gone through Chatham County DUI court, that number is just 7.9%.
That isn’t just a number, its people, one at a time, changing their lives.
“He had learned enough during our process to get sober when he finished with us, his fate would have been to finish at the county jail. He learned enough to get clean,” remembers Fowler.
“We make a substantial effort to set people up for success because that’s what we want. The only reason we have this court is the participants sobriety. if we don’t have that then we’ve failed.”
When Judge Fowler started DUI court here, there were just 3 of those courts in Georgia. Now there are 22, with more on the way.
Right now there are 148 people in the program, and they are always accepting more who want a change.
Fowler’s work is being noticed and honored. His fellow judges on the Council of Accountability Court Judges last week recognized Judge Fowler’s work with the 2016 STAR Award for judges.