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"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."

- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist

"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."

-Alfred North Whitehead

June 15, 2010

Does Treatment Reduce OWI Recidivism?

The scientific literature has identified alcohol treatment as an effective strategy in reducing the recidivism rate for people convicted of operating while intoxicated. Wells-Parker, Elizabeth, Robert Bangert-Drowns, Robert McMillen, and Marsha Williams, (1995) “Final Results from a meta-analysis of remedial interventions with drink/drive offenders”, Addiction, 90, 907-926; DeYoung, David J., (1997) “An evaluation of the effectiveness of alcohol treatment, driver license actions and jail terms in reducing drunk driving recidivism in California” Addiction 92(8), 989-997.

Wells-Parker et al used a meta-analysis of the literature in their study. A meta-analysis applies statistics to a systematic review of the literature. A review of the literature includes searching for relevant scientific articles and then systematically critiquing the articles. Wells-Parker et al estimated a 7-9% reduction in recidivism resulting from treatment. DeYoung’s study showed a somewhat larger reduction, depending on prior convictions for OWI.

What does a 10% reduction in recidivism mean, for example? Assuming a three year recidivism rate for OWI offenders of 15%, defined as an arrest for another OWI within a three year period, fifteen out of 100 offenders will be arrested for OWI within three years. A 10% reduction in the recidivism rate means that instead of a 15% rate we have a 13.5% rate. Instead of fifteen offenders re-offending out of 100, now there will only be 13.5 offenders out of 100 who re-offend (90% of 15).

The studies indicate that treatment probably works, but is not a silver bullet. Currently, the most effective strategies to reduce recidivism for OWI offenders is license restriction coupled with alcohol treatment.

Because of the cost of alcohol treatment, another issue is identifying the type of treatment modality that is most cost-effective—a tougher issue for researchers. I will discuss that one at another time.

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

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