Assessment

As mentioned earlier, the use of assessment tools that identify both criminogenic factors and alcohol, drug and mental health issues are essential in predicting the risk of reoffending and identifying needs to be targeted for change (Latessa & Lowenkamp and Shaffer, et al.).

Ideally, hardcore drunk driving offenders receive a comprehensive assessment of risk and needs as well as screening for alcohol/substance abuse and mental health issues at the pretrial stage, but absolutely prior to sentencing. At a minimum, the offender needs a screening and criminal background review.

Judges should take care to use an assessment tool that is appropriate for drunk driving offenders, not one that is tailored for the general population. In some situations, hardcore drunk driving offenders may be assessed as low-risk offenders because their prior offenses are likely to be low-level and nonviolent/non-felony (Dunlap, Mullins, & Stein, 2007). Additionally, this sub-population of offenders is often typically functional in that they can maintain employment, familial responsibilities and other pro-social demands. The judge always has the right to seek out other assessment tools if needed.

Hardcore drunk driving offenders pose a significant public safety risk for several reasons: First, their reasons for offending are not always foreseeable or predictable. Second, the consequences of their actions, while possibly unintended, are often long-reaching and potentially fatal. Currently there is no single widely used tool that accurately predicts both risk of drinking again or drinking and driving again. Therefore, it is recommended that all hardcore drunk driving offenders begin community supervision as high-risk offenders until they are able to meet the qualifications for lower risk classifications.

When assessed for substance abuse problems, hardcore drunk driving offenders may not necessarily be determined as having an alcohol use/abuse problem. In those cases, it is likely that alcohol use/abuse is not their primary issue area that needs immediate attention. This is why it is essential to conduct comprehensive needs assessments on each hardcore drunk driving offender to isolate and prioritize each need area on an individual basis. It is important to keep in mind that the treatment needs of hardcore drunk driving offenders are not universal; each offender will present his own unique needs which should be targeted for intervention.

Comprehensive alcohol use assessment includes many elements. It includes a profile of drinking behaviors to highlight drinking patterns so a personalized picture of its effects on the offender’s life can be developed. A comprehensive assessment also includes identification of situations in which the problem occurs, and a focus on the individual’s strengths. Emphasizing the individual’s strengths is important because having early successes is critical to his or her motivation to stay with the process of recovery.  Motivation to change and commitment to the change process are also critical aspects of the assessment process.

A new assessment tool is under development at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, that will provide a high quality

computerized, standardized assessment tool that will assess alcohol, drug and mental health issues. It will be made available to the public at no cost in 2014 (see CARS program in Emerging Practices section).

Factors for Judges to Consider Regarding Preventing Recidivism

  • Mandatory screening and, if necessary, alcohol assessment and treatment: Hardcore drunk drivers should obtain a screening and, if indicated, an alcohol assessment prior to the imposition of any sentence. Make the successful completion of any alcohol treatment a condition of sentencing and vigorously prosecute any offender who fails to comply with their alcohol treatment plan.
  • Familiarity with treatment and local providers: Effective treatment for hardcore drunk drivers requires high quality treatment providers. It requires substantially more than a series of video tapes for offenders to view. Judges should have a basic understanding of treatment programs and be familiar with evidence-based approaches to ensure that treatment providers are using evidence based treatment methods.
  • Consistent reporting: Nothing can be done about a problem if no one knows about it. All partners in the effort – judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, probation officers, social workers, treatment providers, and any others – must understand and appreciate the need to report violations of and conditions of pretrial release or sentencing in a timely manner (Allen et al., 1995).

Judges can utilize judicial monitoring tools such as requiring offenders to waive their rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) so the court can monitor any medically-required treatment. Judges can require waivers as a condition of probation. Frequent check ins and/or status reviews with hardcore drunk drivers can also help achieve sentence compliance.