Another DWI prevention tool is available for local courts officials

Loujane Johns

Persons in Yates County who are arrested and convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol may now be mandated to attend a Victim Impact Panel. 

All Yates County judges will now have the option of making attendance part of the sentencing requirements.  First Assistant District Attorney Jason Cook told the Under-aged Drinking Coalition the county has adopted the program.  He said many other New York State counties have used the victim panel.  In  fact, when residents of other counties are arrested for DWI in Yates County and the judge or DA knows his/her home county has the program, the offender is ordered to attend.

Plans are to have two sessions a year. The first is scheduled for Sept. 17 in the Yates County Auditorium. 

Cook said the county had the benefit of experience from other counties on how to set up strict guidelines.  All who are mandated must attend on that date, they will not be permitted to reschedule. 

They must bring I.D.,  but no friends or family.  The offenders will be screened for drugs or alcohol and they cannot be even one minute late.

A victim impact panel is a group of three or four victims who speak briefly about an impaired driving crash in which they were injured or in which a loved one was injured or killed, and how it impacted their lives.  Without blaming or judging they simply tell how their lives and that of others were affected by the crash.

The purpose of the panel is to individualize and humanize the consequences of impaired driving, to change attitudes and behaviors and to deter impaired driving recidivism. Panels also give victims a healing opportunity to share their stories in a meaningful way.

“This humanises what is often considered a trivial crime,” said Cook. He added, “Drunk drivers think they got lucky, because nothing happened.” 

By observing the pain of a victim, the offender can put a face with the crime.  The victims who speak will  not have a connection to any of the local attendees.

Cook said, ”The implementation of a Victim Impact Panel reflects the hard work of many people, but it will be well worth it. “

The coalition also heard from School Social Worker Connie Covert about a parents informational meeting to be held at the Penn Yan Middle School on March 10. 

The meeting will focus on prescription drug misuse.  Covert said the meeting will bring parents up to date about what is being seen in the schools.  A similar meeting, last year,  focused on drugs and alcohol.  Covert said at the meeting she will be providing parents with information on resources for help available in the community.

Last year the coalition followed up the school meeting with a parent forum afew weeks later.  A date for the forum will be announced later.  At that meeting parents will be able to express feelings, ask questions and seek guidance.

Lois Agliata from the Council on Alcoholism and Other Chemical Dependencies announced that a Rite Aid Drug quiz will take place at the Penn Yan Middle School on Mar. 26.  Participants will be from Dundee, Marcus Whitman and Penn Yan grades 5-8.  She also said there will be a Teen Speak-out at Keuka College on March 27.

Members representing Keuka College said students will be taking an on-line survey on drugs, alcohol and life-style issues.  Claudia Welbourne said the survey is done every two years and this year five “local” questions will be added.