MADD, prosecutor’s office works to reduce drunk driving among Burmese refugees

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Plans are underway for the first drunk driving victim impact panel in the Burmese language in Marion County.

Each year, hundreds of drunk driving offenders in Marion County are court ordered to attend a Victim Impact Panel to learn how their actions can hurt others. Relatives of drunk driving victims share their personal stories, pictures and videos in an effort to curb recidivism.

But for one group, that message is getting lost.

Burmese refugees who have been arrested for DUI and can't speak English aren't learning much from these panels, said Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Lun Pieper.

"So far all they have received is a piece of paper that says they attended, which is a great thing that they went and attended, but we want them to be able to understand what was actually said so that they can benefit from it," she said.  "If the goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate them and to help them so that they can learn from past experiences, that’s not going to help them."

That's why Pieper, the county's only Burmese speaking deputy prosecutor, got together with Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Indiana to create the first ever Victim Impact Panel in Burmese.

"We want to reach and serve everybody no matter what their language or cultural background is," said Lael Hill, Lead Victim Services Specialist for MADD. "It's very historic. I'm very excited about it."

Both agencies are hoping this will reduce the recidivism rate and begin to strengthen trust between the refugee community and the justice system in Marion County.

They're currently recruiting volunteers who speak Burmese and anyone who wants to help. Hill says she also wants to create a visual aid with video and music that can better get the message across.

"Starting a Burmese impact panel in Burmese we can probably help the Burmese population in a way that they can actually understand what impact drunk driving can do to the community and how they can help avoid it," said Pieper.

To learn how to volunteer, click here.

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