A recent NBC story has generated comment board debate over how to handle hardcore DWI offenders in need of alcohol treatment. The finger-pointing went wild, aiming at weak state laws, lenient judges, amoral defense attorneys, the prison tax burden, inadequate treatment, and an underfunded health care system. And the biggest target? It was the 34-year-old Omaha man, convicted of DWI three times previously and arrested after crashing with a BAC more than four times the legal limit. The defendant had bonded out of jail but anticipated a month-long wait before finding an available bed at a center to treat his alcohol addiction.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon problem, but we do not have to accept it as “just one of the hard truths of the system.” One solution, supported by The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, is the expansion of DWI Courts. These accountability courts focus on changing the behavior of hardcore DWI offenders through intensive supervision and treatment. Modeled after highly successful Drug Courts, they follow ten guiding principles to protect against future impaired driving, and according to the National Center for DWI Courts, participants are up to nineteen times less likely to be re-arrested than DWI offenders sentenced in a traditional court.
Advanced technology can aid in the course of recovery. SCRAM® bracelets provide continuous transdermal monitoring—measuring ingested alcohol by testing the alcohol that is secreted through a person’s skin. Since research indicates that repeat DWI offenders often suffer from multiple disorders, people like the defendant in Omaha would also benefit from a structured diagnostic mental health assessment. The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility and the Division on Addictions at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School are partnering to expand and test a Computerized Assessment and Referral System that would facilitate this part of the process.
No one wins the blame game, but we CAN work toward a cooperative approach that rehabilitates hardcore DWI offenders while enhancing public safety for all.