Judge James Dehn of Cambridge, Mn., has developed a way to reach the state’s most dangerous drunken drivers – and cut their repeat offenses in half, says the St. Paul Pioneer Press. His methods are becoming more common in Minnesota and are gaining interest nationwide. “It’s about treating them like human beings,” Dehn said. He dispenses justice on the installment plan. Instead of giving drunken drivers a traditional jail sentence, he spreads that sentence out over years, jailing them in July and December. Before each jail term, drivers must appear in court. If they can convince Dehn they’ve been sober, employed, and otherwise reformed, he can allow them to skip the month in jail – until the next time.
That extra vigilance – and understanding the unique psychology of the crime – is the key to Dehn’s success. In a field where even slight reductions are celebrated, experts find the reduction of 50 percent eye-popping. Since Dehn started staggered sentencing in 1998, the idea has thrived. In Minnesota, one-third of the state’s roughly 300 district judges have used it. He teaches staggered sentencing to judges at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nv., and the Minnesota Judicial College. Convicted of a crime, Dehn’s repeat drunken drivers know they will be locked up. Instead of passively accepting the sentence, most of them come before Dehn twice a year. If they prove they are sober and living stable lives, he can waive one month’s jail time. It gives Dehn control for a longer time. He often requires convicts to wear alcohol-monitoring devices between the in-jail periods.