Officials in Yakima have "dusted off" a 20-year-old Washington state law that permits the seizure of vehicles from people convicted of a second DUI conviction in less than seven years.
The program, designed to "send a message to people who persisted in driving while intoxicated despite previous convictions", began in 2013. Since the initiation, the city has only taken possession of three vehicles. The vehicles are seized by government officials, sold at auction, and the proceeds fund the city's DUI program. Anyone who may have an ownership interest in the vehicle, such as creditors or spouses, do have a chance to claim the vehicle before it is sold.
Creator of the iniative, Assistant City Attorney Bronson Faul, hopes that once a new case-management system is implemented, the amount of cars seized by the city will increase.
Despite academic research demonstrating that repeat DUI offenders suffer from psychiatric disorders and substance dependency, policies like the one underway in Yakima continue to ignore the demonstrated need for treatment in favor of a life-disrupting, punitive approach.
The rationale for criminal penalties is supposedly rehabilitative; an individual is sentenced to a punishment that should 'teach a lesson', and allow this person to become a productive member of society once the punishment ends. Did Yakima officials attempt to imagine the devastating impact taking away a person's vehicle could have?
Walkscore.com gives Yakima a rating of 49, deeming it a "Car-Dependent city", with most errands requiring the use of a car. It isn't difficult to conceive of the hardships someone who is subject to vehicle seizure would have maintaining employment and completing everyday tasks.
Policymakers have taken a punitive view towards alcohol and drug dependency for decades, with no significant decrease in rates of alcoholism or drug use. Only when those in power start creating legislation that treats the true root of problems, such as mandating treatment instead of punishment, can rehabilitation actually be the true focus of our justice system.