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Local MADD chapter’s funding dries up

Kitsap County MADD Chapter receives about 90 percent of its funds from the county’s DUI diversion program — a revenue source that’s about to go dry.

A reorganization of MADD’s national office recently shined a new light on the Kitsap chapter’s main source of funding — donations made by first-time DUI offenders as part of a two-year DUI diversion program — and discovered that the program goes against MADD’s policy regarding charge reductions.

Those DUI offenders who successfully complete the diversion program are in turn convicted of a reduced charge — typically first-degree negligent driving.

Offered by the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office, the program is only open to first-time offenders who registered a blood alcohol content of less than .12.

“There are guidelines in place to ensure high-risk offenders don’t participate in the program,” said Stephen Talpins, MADD’s national director of public policy.

Despite the guidelines, charge reductions violate MADD’s policy and the decision was made by MADD national to cut ties with the program.

“MADD national has been looking at the diversion agreement and has decided to no longer accept it,” said Kitsap County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Jahns.

MADD’s anti-charge reduction statement, handed down by its National Board of Directors, states, “MADD believes that all who are charged with DUI/DWI offenses should be prosecuted as charged, rather than be allowed to negotiate to a lesser offense, especially a non-alcohol-related offense.”

“(MADD) made a decision not to deviate from the policy,” Talpins said. “It’s not easy for us to turn to our chapter and say you can’t receive this funding.”

Although it was optional and offenders in the diversion program weren’t required to donate to the Kitsap County MADD Chapter, many did, according to Jahns.

Talpins maintains that MADD must stand by its policy.

“Credibility is absolutely critical,” he said.

Last year, the Kitsap County MADD Chapter collected about $50,000 from the diversion program, according to local president Marsha Masters.

“It’s a big chunk of change that’s going away,” she said. “It all goes into our programs. Almost everything is funded through that.”

The money is used for programs such as MADD’s annual mock crashes, hosted at local high schools the week of prom to remind students of the consequences of drinking and driving; candlelight vigils to remember the victims of drunk driving and to spread awareness; law enforcement awards to honor those officers who made the most DUI arrests in the previous year; youth conferences and much more.

The Kitsap chapter will continue to receive funds that were allocated before the diversion contract with MADD ended. Money will continue to come in until July, but no more after that.

There may, however, be “light at the end of the tunnel,” according to Masters.

The chapter is planning to approach legislators in January at the beginning of the next legislative session to request a law similar to the current domestic violence statute which allows the court to require the offender to pay a maximum of $100 toward a domestic violence advocacy or prevention program (without reducing the charge). Masters is hoping to get a similar law passed, except it would involve offenders convicted of alcohol-related incidences.

“Right now it’s a domestic violence law which (Jahns) thinks can be tweaked,” Masters said.

There are currently more than 600 MADD chapters nationwide including two others in Washington — one in Skagit/Whatcom counties and the other in King County.

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