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Several small-scale studies with various methodological deficiencies indicate a significant decline in recidivism rates for panel attendees. In the first study, the re-arrest rate of 90 impaired driving offenders who attended a Victim Impact Panel in Washington County, Oregon, was examined during an 18-24 month period in 1987 and 1988 (Satterfield-McLeod 1989). Only eight of the panel attendees were re-arrested for impaired driving, constituting 9% of the sample. These results were compared to the Oregon Motor Vehicle Division's estimate that states that 42% of the people arrested for impaired driving in Washington County have had a prior arrest resulting in conviction or diversion.
In Clackamas County, Oregon, 534 offenders who attended a panel between September 1987 and October 1988 were compared to 741 arrested the previous year before the panel program began (O'Laughlin 1990). Those who did not attend a panel were more than three times more likely to be re-arrested within the first year as compared to those who had attended a panel.
A pre to post- attitude study was completed in March 1990, in Dallas, Texas. Ninety-four offenders who attended panels between November 1989 and March 1990 were analyzed (Sprang 1990). Before attending a panel, 87.1% stated they would continue to drink and drive or were undecided. After attending the panel, 90% stated they would not drink and drive again. This study did not include long-term behavioral follow-up.
Shinar and Compton, (NHTSA 1995) point out that while these results are practically significant, such comparisons are meaningful only when it can be demonstrated that all else, such as sanctions, social norms, laws, demographics, and duration of testing was equal during the time periods that were compared.
In an effort to remedy flaws in these preliminary studies, Shinar and Compton compared pre-panel impaired driving conviction rates with post-panel conviction rates of 2,260 offenders. Slightly less than half of these offenders attended a Victim Impact Panel in Oregon or California. The offenders then were matched by age and gender with individuals convicted of impaired driving during the same period who were not ordered to attend a panel. In addition, pre and post-panel convictions were compared for 683 drivers who were ordered to attend a panel but failed to do so. While recidivism was lower with the panel groups, it was not enough to be statistically significant.
Additional analysis indicated that offenders who reported being most effected by panel presentations were 35 years of age or older. Since the mean age of MADD Victim Impact Panel speakers is 46, this might indicate that panel speakers and offender attendees should be within the same age group in order to reach maximum effectiveness. One problem with the Shinar and Compton study, however, was that it included multiple offenders, many of whom may have been alcoholics whose drinking and driving behavior is not likely to change without treatment. Furthermore, the California subjects were not given the opportunity to complete a written evaluation. Putting one's commitment in writing has been shown to positively influence future behavior.
The age issue was addressed in another study in Nassau County, New York (Nathanson and O'Rourke 1996). A sample of 385 individuals age 17 to 65 who attended Victim Impact Panels between February and December 1992 was evaluated. The subjects included both first-time offenders and chronic offenders. During the following four years, 7.5% were re-arrested for impaired driving and 2.6% were re-arrested for multiple offenses (impaired driving plus other crimes). The study's findings suggest that younger chronic offenders (ages 17-25) are more likely than are older chronic offenders to repeat the crime after attending a panel. The study determined that none of the offenders age 36-45 were re-arrested for impaired driving within the four-year period after attending a panel.
The Center for Health Policy and Program Evaluation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison evaluated Victim Impact Panels in six traffic safety schools. Although the individuals who attended a panel were somewhat more likely to respond that their Group Dynamics course reduced their drinking "a lot" or "somewhat," the difference was insignificant. An important finding in this study was that the traffic safety school instructors had no or limited knowledge of MADD's policies and guidelines for the screening, selection, and training of panel speakers. In 1995, The University of Wisconsin Law School's Continuing Education and Outreach Program published Victim Impact Panels: A Reference Manual, which incorporated most of MADD's panel guidelines.
Badovinac (1994) studied 62 male chronic impaired driving offenders in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada who attended panels during the summer of 1991. They were compared with 46 offenders who did not attend panels during the same time period. The results indicated several significant attitude shifts about impaired driving and positive changes in intentions to decrease drinking and driving behavior. However, no increase in empathy for victims was found.
A large longitudinal study conducted by the University of New Mexico's Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions promises the most reliable evaluation of Victim Impact Panels, although the evaluation of the data is not complete. Funded by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the study is conducting a random field trial to assess the Victim Impact Panels' impact on recidivism over a three-year period. Subjects include 237 first offenders ordered to attend the Metro Court DWI School and a MADD Victim Impact Panel, and 295 first offenders ordered to attend the DWI school only. Participants are 74.9% male and 25.1% female. Hispanics and Native Americans make up 58.1% of the total. The preliminary study compared pre-test scores (30-day period before their arrest) with post-test scores (30-day period before the conclusion of the DWI School and Panel for 237 of the offenders) on six alcohol-related measures. On five of the six measures, participants report statistically significant reductions in alcohol consumption and drinking and driving. The current evaluation will determine if the reported change holds for the one and two-year post-test, as well as for recidivism rates.
In July 2000, Purdue University's Automotive Transportation Center released the results of a three-year study of alternative sentences for impaired drivers in Marion County, Indiana. The study included 587 first-time impaired driver offenders with no previous criminal record who were randomly selected for one of six program groups after pleading guilty. They were assigned to one of the programs between August 1995 and August 1996. After completing their programs, they were followed for subsequent charges from August 1996 until September 1999.
All offenders were given the same basic sanction which consisted of 365 days of probation, 30-day license suspension followed by a 180-day license restriction, a $200 alcohol counter measure fee, and standard fines and costs ordered by the Court. The control group received only the basic sanction. The Interlock Group received the basic sanction plus the requirement to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. The MADD Group received the basic sanction plus the requirement to attend a Victim Impact Panel. The Methodist Impact Group received the basic sanction plus the requirement to attend a one-day session at Indianapolis Methodist Hospital where they watched videos and observed victims of crashes being treated by emergency personnel. The Alcohol Medical Treatment Group received the basic sanction plus the requirement to attend one of several available alcohol treatment programs, most of which were several months in duration. The Community Service Group received the basic sanction plus the requirement to provide 24 hours of community service in blocks of four to eight hours at a time.
Of the 587 persons participating in the study, 65 (11%) were re-arrested during the three-year followup period for impaired driving, according to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. At the end of the first year, re-arrest rates for the groups did not differ widely, but the Methodist Impact Group and the control group had the lowest re-arrest rates. The Methodist Impact Group was the most effective at deterring recidivism the first year and the Interlock Group was the least effective as participants began recidivating almost immediately after entry into the program. By the end of the second year, the Methodist Impact and control groups still had the lowest re-arrest rates, but differences between the groups had widened with the Community Service Group and Alcohol Medical Treatment Group clearly indicating the highest number of re-arrests.
Differences between the groups continued to widen over time with the MADD and control groups showing the lowest re-arrest rates by the end of the third year, followed by the Methodist and Interlock Groups, with the Alcohol Medical Treatment and Community Service Groups showing the highest number of re-arrests. The MADD program was the most effective overall at deterring recidivism over the three-year post-program period, while the Community Service Group experienced the highest recidivism rates.
It might have been suspected that the control group would have turned in the poorest performance, but, in fact it ranked very close to the MADD program indicating that for first-time offenders with no previous criminal record, the basic sanction had an impact. Further studies might include offenders with a previous criminal record or teen drivers. It was also noted that a number of offenders who did not participate in the study held commercial licenses. This population could be studied as well.
In a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol (1999), Fors and Rojek report that participation in a one-hour Victim Impact Panel reduced the likelihood of being re-arrested for DWI by 65% within the first year following the panel. This study, conducted in an urban/suburban county in the southeastern United States, noted that those whose re-arrest records were most significantly impacted were white men, ages 26-35, with one prior DUI arrest. Logistic regression was used to compare the importance of specific independent variables on re-arrest. Whether or not a subject was in the group who heard a Victim Impact Panel was the most powerful predictor of re-arrest.
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