September 12, 2007 When people convicted of drunken driving are sentenced to wear electronic monitoring devices and sell their vehicles, repeat offenses decrease. However, according to a new study, neither of these sanctions may be the "active ingredient" in a court system that monitors offenders convicted of driving under the influence. With nearly one-third of all offenders arrested for driving under the influence getting re-arrested at some point, researchers sought to better understand the conditions of court intervention programs that could potentially reduce re-arrest rates.
The study, published in the September edition of the journal Addiction, examined the various components of court-ordered sanctions that may reduce DUI recidivism among people on probation. These so-called "problem-solving DUI courts" have intervention programs that often require offenders to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets with a remote alcohol testing device. Most such programs require intensive probation, random drug testing and court-ordered treatment. This particular program, in Portland, Oregon, additionally mandates that offenders sell their vehicles and undergo polygraph tests.
The study was designed to determine whether electronic monitoring and vehicle sales requirements, alone and in combination, actually reduce the risk of re-arrest for each probationer.
"While evidence indicates that these court intervention programs and DUI courts reduce recidivism, few studies have tried to determine what exactly accounts for their success," said Sandra Lapham, M.D., lead author of the study and a researcher from PIRE's Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The study population included adult repeat DUI offenders with at least one DUI conviction in the last five years and arraigned for a subsequent offense. Participants were enrolled in the study after entering a guilty plea or after they were found guilty at trial. The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Researchers collaborated with the DUI Court in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, Oregon, developed and implemented by Judges Dorothy Baker and Eric Bloch. This problem-solving DUI court called the Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) Intensive Supervision Program (DISP) is a three-year program. The judges, court administrators and court staff actively participated in the study in which the electronic monitoring and/or mandated sale of all vehicles owned by the offenders were imposed randomly, just as is commonly done in clinical drug trials.
"These randomized studies of DUII courts and other treatment courts are so essential, because they enhance public safety by informing judges which approaches best promote a criminal defendant's recovery from alcohol and drug addiction," said Judge Eric Bloch, who directs the program.
The study found those who were required to sell their cars had a 96 percent decrease in arrest rates over those who weren't ordered to sell their vehicles. However, inconsistent results across groups make this finding equivocal. Additionally, those not required to wear electronic monitoring devices had a re-arrest rate four times higher than those who wore such devices.
"But the positive effects of electronic monitoring may be short lived because the re-offense rates increased over time and after 3 years were similar to those without monitoring devices," Dr. Lapham said. "Therefore, the search for the active ingredient in this successful intervention continues."
"The judges have an innate understanding that what they do can improve the health and well-being of offenders and reduce risks to society," said Jodi Lapidus, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor in the department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Division of Biostatistics, at Oregon Health and Science University. "The collaborative research model between a local criminal justice system, research organizations, and academia is an innovative way to assess effectiveness of court-based sanctions for DUII, and ultimately improve public health."
"In the end, the main traffic safety goal of this program is to reduce re-arrest for DUI--and this requires a longer follow-up to determine traffic outcomes well after these chronic offenders have been released from probation." Dr. Lapham said. "The real aim is to change lives and get people back on track; to get them to stop their drinking and drug use, and become productive members of society."
PIRE (Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation) is a national nonprofit public health research institute, supported primarily by federal and state research and program funds, with centers in seven locations around the country. For more information or to obtain a copy of the published report, contact Michelle Blackston at (301) 755-2444 or [email protected].