By REUVEN BLAU and JAMES FANELLI
May 3, 2009 --
The numbers are enough to drive someone to drink.
Nearly 10,000 drunken-driving arrests were made in the city last year, yet of the more than 6,000 cases that have gone through courts, only 187 offenders landed behind bars, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Manhattan handed out the most lenient sentences among the five boroughs, with only 28 -- or 2.5 percent -- of the 1,091 convicted offenders getting jail time. The borough's conviction rate for drunken drivers over the last three years was 75 percent, also the worst in the city.
The state's conviction rate for the past three years was 95.6 percent.
Advocates, lawmakers and families of drunken-driving victims said the shockingly low number of jail sentences shows courts go too easy on offenders and do little to discourage recidivism. The claim is bolstered by state data showing 17 percent of arrested drunken drivers in 2008 had already had a DWI arrest in the past five years.
"Statistics seem to show that all too often, there is no effort to put these people behind bars," said state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-LI).
Johnson and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Sullivan County) have introduced a bill that would toughen DWI laws by allowing counties to mandate that first-time offenders install an ignition-locking device that lets them drive only after they pass a breath test.