More drunken drivers are going to prison in Kansas.
There were 196 DUI violators admitted to prison in Kansas during 2004, according to the most recent numbers from the Kansas Sentencing Commission. That's a 38 percent increase from the previous year and an astronomical rise from 2001, when there were only five drunk drivers admitted to prison statewide.
The increase is due to a 2001 change in state law that required fourth-time drunk en drivers to be placed on parole instead of county probation once they finish serving a mandatory term in county jail. If they get in trouble within a year, they face the threat of entering the prison system instead of being sent back to county jail.
"It's heartening that they're cracking down on some of these people. They're habitual violators," said Max Sutherland, director of Kansas' chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "I think there are people out there who still don't relate to DUI as a serious crime. I think they feel that's not a priority for beds in the Department of Corrections, that it's overloaded and there should be hardened criminals in there. They don't associate that with DUI."
The trend was mentioned in a recent report about Kansas' prison population, which is expected to grow about 8 percent in the next 10 years, from 9,166 this year to 9,749 in 2015.
The state's current prison capacity is 9,357.
Of the 78 people in Douglas County being supervised by KDOC parole officers, at least 11 - about 14 percent - are on parole for theirfourth or subsequent DUI.
"It's just a new population to us altogether," said Jennifer Keating, director of Johnson County's parole office. "They're extremely unique in the fact that they don't go to prison, yet they're on parole."
After a fourth or subsequent DUI conviction, a person must do at least 90 days in county jail. Then they're released and supervised by KDOC's parole officers for one year.
If they don't follow the terms of supervision, they can be sent to prison for 180 days.
"Most of it is probably related to relapsing and drinking," Keating said. "I've had a fair number of them commit another DUI."
They can get out in 90 days if they behave well in prison.
Before the change in the law in 2001,DUI convictions that were more than five years old didn't count against defendants when calculating how many DUIs they had. But now, every DUI in the person's past is counted.
"People need to know that, and I don't think the public is aware," said John Frydman, a local defense attorney who regularly handles DUI cases. "People are being charged with felonies all the time, when in the past it would have only been a misdemeanor."