Arkansas DWI Program Reflects Cultural Differences of Hispanic Offenders

BENTONVILLE, Ark.

Emmanuel Flores says the court-ordered alcohol-safety programs he teaches require some modifications when the students who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated are Hispanic.

“The big difference is that, in many Latin American countries, there aren’t laws mandating a legal drinking age,” Flores says. “And laws about drinking and driving are rarely enforced.”

In the program, Flores explains in Spanish how much alcohol it takes to get a person drunk and that being sick or stressed can get a person drunk faster.

He also explains Arkansas laws on drinking and driving, and tries to dispel cultural myths that he says some Hispanics believe about alcohol.

“They may believe eating an onion will make you sober or that drinking tequila is a cure for a cold,” he says. “Many of these Hispanics started drinking at a young age and, to them, getting a DWI is a sign of an inexperienced drinker. It’s considered a weakness.”

Flores is an instructor for Decision Point, a Bentonville-based rehabilitation center contracted by the state Department of Human Services to provide the program for courts in Washington, Benton, Madison and Carroll counties.

When a driver gets a DWI in Arkansas, the state suspends that person’s driver’s license aside from the criminal charge. If convicted, a judge can order the person to attend an alcohol safety-education program to get the driver’s license back.

Julie Munsell, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, says the state has 14 alcohol safety-education programs. Five have instructors who are fluent in English and Spanish; the others use interpreters.

“A lot of these people don’t realize until they’ve been arrested once that DWI is such a serious offense in America,” Springdale City Attorney Jeff Harper says. “That, plus many of them are here to work and earn money for their families, and losing their driver’s license cuts into their ability.”

Linda Ruth Placke started Springdale’s Ozark Guidance Center’s first Spanish-language alcohol-safety program in 1996. She’s now director of Decision Point’s intensive outpatient treatment program.

“The Hispanic defendants were being ordered to the program, but it was all done in English,” Placke recalls. “They were attending like they were supposed to, but they understood very little of what was going on.”

Placke says the next step is to start a residential substance abuse treatment program with a Spanish-speaking staff. The closest program is a private facility in west Texas.

–Associated Press



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