Problematic Behavior or Activity
In 2014, more than 34,000 people died in the United States because of impaired or intoxicated driving incidents. The annual cost associated with such incidents is estimated to be over $125 billion. Many people who are charged and convicted of driving while impaired or intoxicated are repeat offenders. The traditional court process and typical sentencing scheme (that is, receive a sentence and leave the court environment) does not seem to help many people change their behavior or reduce recidivism rates.
Impact on the Community
In the late 1990s, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Dorothy Baker recognized that the same people were showing up in court for repeat convictions of driving while under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). These repeat offenders typically received the same sentence and probation conditions. With no change in their behavior, these offenders presented a high risk of repeat incidents and accidents.
The DUII Intensive Supervision Program (DISP) targets repeat adult DUII offenders who are arrested and convicted in Multnomah County. Most offenders in the program have three or more DUII convictions. DISP is a therapeutic court modeled on the 10 Key Components of Drug Courts and the DWI Court Guiding Principles, both widely followed nationwide. The program offers three-year intensive probation with a comprehensive approach to substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. This treatment is the primary emphasis, but mental health treatment, employment, and financial stability are also key to the overall rehabilitation effort. Enrollees tackle substance use problems, while incorporating lifestyle changes designed to remove major stressors that often lead to relapse. The ultimate goal is for people to return to the community healthy and able to manage their substance and mental health issues. They are then positioned to become gainfully employed, financially sound, and self-sustaining. Enrollees are then less likely to commit future crimes related to alcohol or other drugs, and this also benefits their families and the community.
The three-year program imposes rigorous probation conditions on offenders. They are prohibited from using illegal drugs, marijuana, and alcohol, driving motor vehicles, gambling, and entering bars, taverns, or liquor stores. DISP participants are required to sell their vehicles. They are not allowed to live in a residence where alcohol or drugs are used, kept, or sold. Any people living with the probationer must agree that they will not provide alcohol, other drugs, or motor vehicles to that individual. Offenders are required to be employed full time, attend school, or in the case of disability or retirement, engage in volunteer activities. All DISP participants must complete a minimum of one year in alcohol and drug treatment and participate in community support meetings such as AA or an acceptable alternative.
Offenders have regular appointments with their case managers and frequently scheduled hearings with a judge. They may receive sanctions for violating the conditions of their probation, including courtroom sit sanctions (observing court proceedings for the day and then reviewing the experience with a judge and case manager), community service, and jail. Correspondingly, positive behavior may be rewarded by incentives, such as letters from the judge, certificates, and recognition ceremonies.
A multidisciplinary team meets weekly to discuss upcoming hearings and decide upon coordinated responses to probation violations. The team comprises case managers, judges, defense attorneys, district attorneys, probation officers, law enforcement, and treatment providers. Sanctions are determined by assessing the individual offender and relying on a combination of strategies intended to be fair and to result in behavioral changes. Additionally, offenders are given the opportunity to speak during hearings and are provided with information and access to representation to ensure that they understand proceedings, decisions, and responsibilities.
Based on Research
DISP was not created based on research or evidence-based practices, but it has evolved into a program that assimilates evidence-based principles extensively. The program’s use of these principles appears to be consistent with research presented in Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards, Volume 1 and recommendations set forth by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institutes of Health as program components that are consistent with success. DISP looks to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) (nadcp.org) and the National Center for DWI Courts (dwicourts.org ) for the latest information, studies, and best practices.
According to the National Center for DWI Courts, three discrete studies have found DWI courts effective in reducing recidivism among DWI offenders.
The Oregon Judicial Department’s 4th Judicial District pays for judges, three case managers, and a program director. But DISP is an offender-funded program and probationers are responsible for the costs related to substance use treatment, an electronic alcohol monitoring bracelet, supervision fees, and random urinalysis.
DISP currently has two grants. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) pays for Portland police home visits and warrant service. An Oregon Criminal Justice Commission grant is funding training at the annual NADCP conference and the procurement of what will hopefully prove to be a valid risk assessment tool, the Impaired Driving Assessment.
Proposed outcome measures:
Through the end of 2014, 2,001 defendants entered DISP. Of those participants, 1,499 successfully completed the program and 502 were revoked. For those who successfully complete DISP, the recidivism rates are relatively low:
- New DUII conviction three years after probation ends: 8.1%
- New DUII conviction five years after probation ends: 11.6%
Based on a study completed in 2006, the National Institute of Justice has deemed this a “promising” program. The study found that the recidivism rate among DISP participants was significantly lower than for a comparison group (who did not participate in DISP). DISP participants had a 9.8 percent recidivism rate, while the comparison group had an 18.3 percent recidivism rate. DISP participation is associated with a 48 percent reduction in re-arrests for impaired driving.
Critical Success Factors
With an investment in dedicated staff and judge time, a circuit court or municipal court in Oregon can start and sustain a DUII treatment court. Treatment providers and self-help groups (such as AA) are in almost every section of the state and play a vital role in successfully changing lives. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and ODOT provide grants to start and sustain DUII courts.
Getting the support of the community and assembling a comprehensive team is critical and it can be accomplished by presenting valid, relevant outcome data on recidivism for DUII offenders in a treatment court versus traditional probation.