Your focus is on drunk drivers. Why is that?
There was a traffic accident in Tartu County in 2015. A drunk driver of just 23 years of age but already a repeat offender drove into a tree at great speed and killed themselves and three other young people. Just a few days after the incident and in the same place, a routine patrol pulled over, after a short chase, another drunk driver who had started their run in Tallinn and driven through half the country while intoxicated.
Heading criminal proceedings of more serious traffic crimes was added to the list of my duties a short time before that tragic accident. When I got myself up to speed, I learned that penal policy for containing drunk drivers was weak so as not to say toothless. The attitude in 2015 was that drunk driving was a phenomenon in itself. Studies portrayed it as a marginal problem and said it was far more likely for people to die in traffic as a result of speeding or people using mobile phones behind the wheel.
Three days after the crash that killed four people, I was giving a press conference when I was asked by a Postimees reporter what the state plans to do to avoid such tragic accidents in the future. I did not have a good answer at the time.
Between August 2015 and the spring of 2016, I asked for detention for 16 drunk drivers, with my colleagues putting in another 16 requests. Despite predictions by defense attorneys that the prosecution’s repressive ambitions would not fly, Tartu Circuit Court did not release a single offender to the best of my knowledge.
How many went to prison?
For more than a few months? Fewer than five. And there is an explanation here. Keeping a person in a correctional facility costs the state €1,900 a day. At the same times, prisons do not have an effective system for tackling addiction. It is doubtful whether such a system could be created and maintained in the conditions of existing medical resources. It is clear that a person isolated from society for a longer period of time deteriorates socially. We must also not forget that most of these drunk drivers have wives or partners and children.
We started looking for alternatives in the fall of 2016, to have drunk drivers address their alcohol abuse problem instead of isolating them from society. The Ministry of Justice launched a pilot project at the South District Prosecutor’s Office in the fall of 2016. Criminal proceedings were terminated for first offenders (for driving in a criminal state of intoxication) on the condition that they complete the National Institute for Health Development’s program “Kainem ja tervem Eesti” (More Sober and Healthier Estonia) for which they had to pay themselves. The program entailed visits to a psychiatry clinic and bringing to the prosecution two blood samples six months apart. The latter meant to prove the person had managed to limit their alcohol consumption.