Program Type: DWI/Drug Court
Program Location: Minnesota
Lead Agency: Isanti County, 10th Judicial District Court
Partners: Probation services, where applicable
The Issue: Reducing Spending
Program Target Population: Repeat Offenders
Hardcore Offenders

Program Description:

In the 10th Judicial District, Judge James Dehn created a “Drug Court on a Dime,” which is a program that implements a staggered sentencing model for adjudicating DUI offenders.  This approach has been proven to reduce recidivism, as well as save hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state by reducing jail stays.

Staggered sentencing in Isanti County divides a standard jail sentence or home electronic alcohol monitoring (HEAM) sanction into three segments, typically in segments of 10 days for jail and 30 days for HEAM. HEAM is a non-house arrest alcohol monitoring program that allows the offender to carry on with their regular daily activities. The offender is required to provide a breath sample into a video monitoring unit three times a day at his home, and if he tests positive or fails to provide a sample at the designated time, he violates his sanction. The judge can tailor the frequency and timing of the monitoring to the specific circumstances of the offender.

The offender has the burden of proof to show sobriety at the end of each segment served. He may bring a motion before the judge requesting a hearing in order to be released from the next segment. The judge will not consider a motion without at least three letters from the offender’s “circle of accountability;” including family members, coworkers, friends, AA sponsors and the like. In the hearing, the offender must successfully prove that he has remained sober during the previous segment, has participated in a structured sobriety group, has not committed any other alcohol/drug-related crimes, and has the support of his probation officer. If the offender does not file for release from a future segment, he moves on to serve that segment. If an offender gets another DUI during this period, the remainder of the sentence is carried out.

Program Effectiveness:

In 2003, the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department conducted a preliminary evaluation of the staggered sentencing practice by Judge James Dehn and found that the first 61 DWI offenders given staggered sentences have experienced almost 50% less DWI recidivism than would otherwise be expected based on statewide recidivism rates for comparable DWI offenders in the same time frame.

In addition, according to an evaluation conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on intensive supervision programs for DUI offenders (2011), the Isanti County staggered sentencing program participants had a 30.6% lower recidivism rate than comparison communities over a 4-year post-offense period. Estimates indicate that this program prevented 15 to 23 re-arrests for DUI.

Program Cost Effectiveness:

  • The program requires little or no funding.
  • In the last 5 years, $300,000 in jail bed fees has been saved through suspending over 5,500 days of jail time.
  • The same sentencing judge provided uniform guidance for the duration of the case (3-6 years).

 Factors to Consider When Replicating the Program:

  • A third of judges in the United States don’t have probation services available and must organize review hearings on their own and monitor offenders themselves
  • Clarity on program details by probation authorities
  • Offenders’ lack of initiation for filing a motion for a hearing after a segment
  • Scheduling hearings into the normal court calendar

Formal Evaluation(s) of Program:

An Evaluation of Intensive Supervision Programs for Serious DWI Offenders
Controlling Repeat DWI Offenders with Staggered Sentencing

For more information on this program, please contact:
Judge James Dehn