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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

July 6, 2010

Research Mixed on Efficacy of DWI Courts

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts have been modeled after drug courts. These treatment courts use on-going court review hearings coupled with intensive alcohol and drug treatment and random or continuous testing for the use of drugs and alcohol. Participants in these DWI courts receive negative reinforcements such as additional jail for program violations, and positive reinforcements for program achievements.

A recently published systematic literature review of 41 published and unpublished evaluations of DWI courts attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of DWI courts on reducing recidivism.[i] The researchers reviewed the methodology of these evaluations, and eliminated all but 14 for further review because of methodological limitations with the evaluations. Of the remaining fourteen, merely five of the evaluations satisfied at least 65% of these researchers’ recommended criteria for evaluating a DWI court’s effectiveness.

The authors of this literature review concluded, “Although the results hint at emerging evidence potentially favoring the effects of DWI Courts, conclusions are seriously hampered by the disappointing state of the research in this area.” [ii] These studies were unable to answer some significant questions. What component of the DWI court was the operant variable that may be impacting the recidivism rate? Was it the more comprehensive AODA treatment provided? Was it the intensive supervision and monitoring? Was it the additional required court review hearings? For which group of offenders is a DWI court effective? These questions remain unanswered, and can only be answered by additional research.

Some research has shown that drug courts may be effective. However, a major difference between alcohol abuse and drug abuse is that the use of drugs is illegal or highly regulated, whereas the use of alcohol is legal for adults, and only becomes illegal when coupled with driving. That factor complicates AODA treatment.

A 2010 study of two hybrid alcohol and drug courts in two, unnamed, upper mid-west cities compared DWI offenders who were sentenced to prison and then paroled, with DWI offenders who were enrolled in a hybrid alcohol and drug court. The researchers reported no statistical difference for re-arrest for a new DWI offense between those who completed the alcohol and drug court program and those who completed prison and then parole. (There was some evidence of a reduction for arrests for other crimes for alcohol court participants, but it did not reach statistical significance.) However, the hybrid court reduced recidivism for non-DWI offenders.

The researchers concluded “Specifically, this study determined that completion of a hybrid drug court program did not benefit the subsample of chronic DUI offenders compared to similar DUI offenders who completed prison terms followed by parole supervision (even when weighting procedures were employed to counter the effect of small sample size).”[iii]

At this point there is some research which supports the efficacy of DWI courts for reducing recidivism. DWI courts are resource intensive in terms of treatment, supervision, and court time. Further research is needed to discover whether or not each of these additional resources reduce recidivism and provide a return on investment in terms of community safety. At this time, the research is unclear on the question of DWI courts’ effectiveness.

[i] Marlowe, Douglas B., David S. Festinger, Patricia Arabia, Jason R. Croft, Nicholas S. Patapis, and Karen Dugosh, (2009), “A Systematic Review of DWI Court Program Evaluations”, Drug Court Review, Vol. VI, 2.

[ii] Ibid. p. 32

[iii] Bouffard, Jeffrey A., Katie A. Richardson, Travis Franklin, (2010) “Drug courts for DWI offenders? The effectiveness of two hybrid drug courts on DWI offenders, Journal of Criminal Justice, 38, pp.25-33

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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