If you had to go through a program intended to convince you to make a positive change in your behavior, would it be more effective if were conducted in French or English? And would it be more effective if it were geared toward people brought up in the United States or toward those brought up in, say, Iran?
Either one of these hypothetical questions is a no-brainer. It is patently obvious that any attempt to persuade you in a foreign language — even one with which you have a measure of familiarity — is going to be far less successful than one conducted in your own. The foreign-language attempt will use words you don’t know and idiomatic expressions unfamiliar to you, and your comfort level will be far below what it would be were you to be addressed in your native tongue.
Similarly, were such an attempt to be geared toward the cultural peculiarities of Iranian Muslims it would be unlikely to resonate with your American ones, even if it were conducted in English.
This is why Maricopa County set up separate versions of its DUI Court program for people whose native language is Spanish and for American Indians.
The DUI Court program, as presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez-Mundell of Maricopa County Superior Court explained on the Opinion 2 page of the Dec. 12 Tribune, was set up in 1998 to reduce drunken driving by helping people who had served jail time for felony DUI to stay sober and accept responsibility for their actions. Participants must adhere to strict terms of probation such as attendance at regular DUI Court sessions, substance abuse counseling, mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the wearing of an ankle bracelet that detects any boozing on their part. Those who deviate can be re-jailed for a night or two or compelled to go into a residential treatment program — and if they’re re-arrested, they face up to two and a half years in the slammer.
The federally funded program, which addresses those most likely to become or who already are chronic drunken drivers, is quite a success — and the Spanish-language version is even more so. While the regular DUI Court’s graduation rate is nearly 66 percent, that of the Spanish one is fully 88 percent.
Every one of the drivers who graduates from this program constitutes a
potentially deadly threat neutralized — as well as a person whose life has a much better chance of liberation from the squalid misery of alcoholism.
Why, then, is Arizona Attorney General Andrew Thomas spending taxpayer dollars in an attempt to suppress the Spanish-language and Indian versions of the DUI Court? Thomas has hired a Washington, D.C., law firm Jones Day to research whether the separate versions violate the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, which he argues they do. At a news conference Thursday, the Rev. Oscar Tillman, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, agreed, asserting that the separate DUI Courts harken back to the days when the 19th-century concept of "separate but equal" enabled blacks to be relegated to inferior or non-existent facilities by racist cheats.
Rev. Tillman’s view of this, however, is grossly mistaken. The Spanish-language and Indian DUI Courts are separate in order to be equal. Help delivered in a foreign tongue or oriented to an alien culture is inherently unequal. The separate DUI Courts exist to ensure Spanish speakers and American Indians get the same chance to turn their lives around that’s afforded to English speakers and non-Indian Americans. Do they deserve anything less?
We think not. And we’re inclined to eye askance Attorney General Thomas’s professed concern about equal protection. His efforts seem geared less toward that noble end than toward ingratiating himself with the considerable number of voters who are in a grouchy mood about illegal immigration and the increasing Spanish-language presence in Arizona.
Which raises a question: Are Andrew Thomas’s political aspirations more important than the reduction in the drunken-driving menace to Maricopa County drivers this program’s success provides?