In the second edition of the Hardcore Drunk Driving Judicial Education Guide, the focus is on the growing body of research that emphasizes the critical importance of individualized sentencing for hardcore drunk drivers. In fact, research has begun to suggest that cookie- cutter sentencing can actually increase the hardcore drunk driving problem.

A 2006 survey sponsored by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) queried the general public about sentencing practices. Among the respondents:

  • 75 percent thought sentencing practices needed some/major changes
  • 79 percent thought many offenders could be rehabilitated
  • 59 percent thought prisons were unsuccessful at rehabilitation
  • 88 percent thought alternative sentences for non-violent offenders should be used often/sometimes
  • 66 percent thought judges should have a big or leading role in this effort
On the heels of this research, The National Center for State Courts produced Using Offender Risk and Needs Assessment Information at Sentencing – Guidance for Courts from a National Working Group.” The publication proposes usage of the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) model and the information below is excerpted from the publication:
 
  • The Risk principle holds that supervision and treatment levels should match the offender’s level of risk. In practice this means that low-risk offenders should receive less supervision and services, and higher-risk offenders should receive more intensive supervision and services…
  • The Needs principle maintains that treatment services should target an offender’s criminogenic needs – the dynamic (changeable) risk factors most associated with criminal behavior…
  • The Responsivity principle contends that treatment interventions should use cognitive social learning strategies and be tailored to the offender’s specific learning style, motivation and strengths…

Taken together, these principles can lead to reductions in recidivism as outlined in the table below.

  High Risk Low Risk
High Needs Accountability, Treatment & Habilitation Treatment and Habilitation
Low Needs Accountability & Habilitation Prevention

Source: Douglas B. Marlowe, J.D, Ph.D., Targeting Dispositions by Risks and Needs Treatment Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania


The principles of evidence-based sentencing suggest that effective interventions focus on the offender’s likelihood of reoffending and the offender’s “criminogenic needs.” Sentences should then be crafted to address the offender’s individual characteristics. The level of supervision should match the risk level of the offender.