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Melanie's Story

A first-hand story from the grandfather of 13-year-old victim Melanie Powell
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State ranked among the worst in nation
Quincy judge was among first to take a hard line


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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Quincy judge was among first
to take a hard line

TANIT SAKAKINI/for The Patriot Ledger
Retired Quincy District Court Judge Albert Kramer says the key to stopping repeat offenders is tough sentencing and forced treatment.

Twenty years ago, Quincy District Court Judge Albert Kramer thought he had the answer to keeping repeat drunken drivers off the roads: Hit them hard with punishment and alcohol treatment the first time they get caught.

Kramer's strategy was to sentence first-time drunken drivers to a few days in jail as a form of shock therapy, then assign them to a 30-week alcohol treatment program.

The jail sentences were his response to 1980s research showing drunken drivers with as many as five or six convictions were getting back in their cars without having served a day behind bars.

Critics of Kramer's strategy argued that there weren't enough jails to hold first-time drunken drivers, even for a few days. And defendants sentenced to jail often appealed, clogging the courts.

When Kramer's model was adopted statewide in 1987, it was a watered-down version. Instead of sentencing first- and second-time drunken drivers to jail and alcohol treatment, it permitted them to avoid jail sentences by agreeing to get help.

The result? Drunken drivers with more than one conviction are still getting back in their cars without having served jail time.

Kramer, who retired in 1993, said, "My thinking was, and it was clear from the studies, that 65 to 70 percent of first-time offenders were addicted to alcohol. If you continue to treat them as social drinkers, you are missing the boat."

Kramer's recommendations for dealing with the highly charged issue were included in a chapter of the 1986 book "Drunk Driving in America - Strategies and Approaches to Treatment."

Kramer said he continues to believe that the key to stopping repeat offenders is tough sentencing combined with forced long-term treatment programs and close supervision by probation officers.

"You can't put them in a program once a week and keep them sober," he said.

"You need to put them in an intensive program for 26 weeks and go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) three to four times a week," Kramer said. "There is no doubt that if you get people sober, you will have less deaths and accidents."

Dennis Tatz may be reached via E-mail by .


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