A Smart Tweak to DUI Victim Impact Panels to Reach Younger Offenders

Illinois DUI offenders are required to attend a Victim Impact Panel (VIP) as part of their sentence.  At a VIP, offenders sit in an audience and listen as victims of drunk driving accidents, family members, or convicted drunk drivers talk about the damage that can happen on the ride home from a night of drinking.

In a pay-walled story on the Chicago Tribune’s site, Barbara Brotman, writes about how these Victim Impact Panels are getting a smart tweak, in order to reach younger DUI offenders.

From the Tribune:

Other [Victim Impact] panels offered by [the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists], which holds 140 of them a year in the Chicago area and collar counties, address offenders of all ages. But Rita Kreslin, executive director of the alliance, worried that they were missing their mark with the younger crowd.

Kreslin, whose son John was killed in a crash at age 19, took note of young people she saw when she spoke at victim impact panels.

“I’d see those kids file out that didn’t look old enough to have a driver’s license (and) they’re thinking, ‘Well, that doesn’t apply to me; the guy next to me was an old man,'” she said.

She wanted to create panels that would clearly apply to young people, some of whom also face charges of underage drinking or reckless conduct, at a pivotal point in their lives.

“I’m not going to teach some 40-year-old how to make better choices,” Kreslin said. “But the kids, it’s more of a restorative program.”

She proposed having panels specifically for young people to officials of the DuPage County court system over the summer, and the chief judge approved her plan.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin is a supporter.

“I think someone who is under the age of 24 looks at life a lot differently than someone who is in their 40s or 50s,” he said.

A number of chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving across the nation already hold victim impact panels for young people.

And the national organization last January rolled out a program for teenage offenders called Start Making a Right Turn, or SMART, that incorporates a victim impact panel, information on the developing teenage brain and strategies for not drinking until the legal age of 21.

MADD Illinois hopes to start offering the SMART program in Berwyn after Jan. 1, said state Executive Director Sam Canzoneri.

The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists victim impact panels for youths currently are offered only in DuPage County, though Kreslin is working to expand it and said officials in other counties have expressed interest. Last month’s panel at Benedictine University was only AAIM’s second geared for young people.

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