A surprising number of first-time DWI offenders in Houston’s Harris County, facing the stiff costs and strict rules that come with probation, have decided spending time behind bars is the better option, the Houston Chronicle reports. In a county already struggling with crowded jails, that’s a disturbing trend. Sentences can be short enough to mean losing only one weekend and a vacation day, but some end up behind bars as long as half a year. “Because of the number of sanctions and what the defendants feel is the ‘hassle factor,’ many opt not to go on probation,” said County Criminal Court at Law Judge Sherman Ross.
The choice of jail time also may mean fewer options for treating the alcohol problems that land many drivers there. “Probation has become so onerous that there’s no incentive to take it,” said Bob Wessels, manager of the county criminal courts at law. “If we really want people in treatment, we aren’t providing incentives.” Of the 6,685 DWI defendants in the county who accepted plea agreements last year, 2,894 (43 percent) took jail time rather than probation. Robert Pelton, a veteran defense attorney, generally advises clients to take jail time because probation can be so arduous, financially and otherwise. Probation for DWI carries another risk: If it’s revoked, a judge can pile on even more jail time than originally would have been ordered. This, added to the fact that Harris County has the highest per capita rate of probation revocations in Texas, means it may make more sense to burn some vacation time behind bars, Pelton said.