By C. West Huddleston, Director, National Drug Court Institute (Virginia) and Robin Wosje, Program Attorney, The National Judicial College (Nevada)
Stand-alone DWI courts and “hybrid” drug courts that also serve an impaired driving population (DWI/drug courts) are changing the mindset of criminal justice professionals and affecting how DWI offenders are handled. Treatment with intensive supervision works with this population and promises better long-term outcomes through decreased recidivism. While the efficacy of DWI courts has been established, additional studies are currently underway to better define their effectiveness.
Establishment of Drug Courts
Drug courts are part of an innovative judicial model in which offenders are held accountable for their actions, but are afforded the tools they need to break the patterns of drug abuse that damage their lives, as well as the lives of others. The major goals of most drug courts have been established with the benefit of both offenders and their communities in mind. Typically, the goals are: (1) to reduce drug use and associated criminal behavior by engaging and retaining drug-involved offenders in treatment services; (2) to concentrate expertise about drug cases in a single courtroom; (3) to address other defendant needs through clinical assessment and effective case management; and (4) to remove drug cases from traditional courtrooms, freeing these courts to adjudicate non-drug cases.
Success of Drug Courts
Other researchers have similarly concluded that “we know that drug courts out-perform virtually all other strategies that have been attempted for drug-involved offenders.”12
Perhaps the most important finding is that offenders who become part of a drug court program are succeeding on completion of the program. Comparisons with other groups reveal much higher retention rates in the program, and lower recidivism and drug-use rates after the program ends, for drug court participants.13
The most substantial and compelling national study of drug courts to date was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and released in 2003. This study tracked 2,020 graduates of 95 drug courts in 1999 and 2000 to establish a benchmark national aggregate recidivism rate. It found that only 16.4 percent of drug court graduates were re-arrested and charged with a serious offense after one year and only 27.5 percent were re-arrested and charged with a serious offense after two years.14 (The NIJ study was not a comparative study but a study to establish a “benchmark national aggregate recidivism rate.”)
In 2000 a Vera Institute of Justice report found that “the body of literature on recidivism is now strong enough, despite lingering methodological weaknesses, to conclude that completing a drug court program reduces the likelihood of future arrest.”15
Using Drug Courts as a Model for DWI Courts
To date, it has generally been left to the traditional courts and criminal justice system to deal with DWI cases, and it has become clear that the traditional process is not working for repeat DWI offenders. Punishment, unaccompanied by treatment and accountability, is an ineffective deterrent for the repeat DWI offender. The outcome for the offender is continued dependence on alcohol; for the community, continued peril.
A new strategy for fighting repeat impaired driving now exists, however, based on the proven drug court model. These “DWI courts” and “DWI/drug courts” hold offenders to a high level of accountability while providing them with long-term, intensive treatment and compliance monitoring. Currently, there are more than 58 stand-alone DWI courts nationwide, with an additional 30 in the planning stage. In addition, there are some 32 hybrid DWI/drug courts nationwide which are primarily drug courts that also target DWI offenders. Providing system oversight and system accountability, DWI courts and DWI/drug courts monitor the justice and treatment system, as well as the offender.
Objectives and Operation of DWI Courts
DWI Courts use all criminal justice stakeholders (prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, law enforcement agencies, and others), along with alcohol and drug treatment professionals. These individuals comprise a “DWI court team,” which is usually accountable to the DWI court judge who heads the team. The DWI court team uses a team-oriented approach to systematically change an offender’s behavior. This approach includes identification and referral of offenders early in the legal process to a full continuum of drug or alcohol treatment and other rehabilitative services. Due to the public safety concerns with the DWI offender population, DWI courts are typically post-plea in structure and require a conviction and in many cases, incarceration before entering the program. The post-plea model allows for better community supervision during the program and prosecutorial leverage in the event the participant fails to successfully comply or complete the program. In the event of program failure, the participant would face certain incarceration.
Compliance with treatment and other court-mandated requirements is verified by frequent alcohol or drug testing, close community supervision, and interaction with the judge in non-adversarial court review hearings. During these review hearings, the judge employs a science-based response to participant compliance (or non-compliance) in an effort to further the team’s goal of encouraging pro-social, sober behaviors that will prevent DWI recidivism.16
The missions, objectives, and operations of a drug court that exclusively targets illicit drug abusers, a stand-alone DWI court that targets alcohol or other substance impaired drivers, and a hybrid type of DWI/drug court that targets a mix of DWI offenders and illicit drug abusers are nearly interchangeable. All are part of the drug court model. The structure of the three types of treatment courts is also similar. The advantage of establishing a stand-alone DWI court, however, is that it allows for the development of a more specialized treatment focus and a more case-manageable network of relevant and supportive community resources.
Benefits of DWI Courts
DWI courts can and should serve as a unifying venue of accountability for the repeat DWI offender. By joining with State motor vehicle departments, governors’ offices of highway/traffic safety, State and local law enforcement agencies, NHTSA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and other crash prevention and victim support groups, DWI courts can strengthen the justice system’s response to repeat impaired driving.
A DWI court’s coercive power is the key to admitting DWI offenders into treatment quickly and for a period of time that is long enough to make a difference. This proposition is unequivocally supported by the empirical data on substance abuse treatment programs.17 Data consistently show that treatment, when completed, is effective. However, if given a choice, most drug addicts and alcohol abusers will not enter a treatment program voluntarily. In addition, those who enter programs voluntarily rarely complete them. About half drop out in the first three months, and 80 to 90 percent leave by the end of the first year. Among these dropouts, relapse within a year is the norm.18
Accordingly, if treatment is to fulfill its considerable promise as a key component of DWI reduction policy, DWI offenders not only must enter treatment, but also must remain in treatment and complete the program. If they are to do so, most will need incentives that may be characterized as “coercive.” In the context of treatment, the term “coercion”--used interchangeably with “compulsory treatment,” “mandated treatment,” “involuntary treatment,” and “legal pressure into treatment”--refers to an array of strategies that shape behavior by responding to specific actions with external pressure and predictable consequences. Evidence shows those substance abusers who receive treatment through court orders or employer mandates benefit as much as, and sometimes more than, those who enter treatment voluntarily.19
A DWI court is the best vehicle within the criminal justice system for expediting the time interval between arrest and entry into treatment, and for providing the necessary structure to ensure that a DWI offender remains in treatment long enough for benefits to be realized.
Monitoring Success of DWI Courts
Examples of DWI Courts
|10 See Huddleston, C. West, et al., “Painting the Current Picture: A National Report Card on Drug Courts and Other Problem Solving Court Programs in the United States,” Vol. I,
No. 1, National Drug Court Institute (May 2004).
11 See Belenko, Steven R., “Research on Drug Courts: A Critical Review,” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University (1998).
12 See Marlowe, Douglas B., et al., “A Sober Assessment of Drug Courts,” Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 16, pp. 113-128 (October 2003).
13 See Belenko, supra.
14 See Roman, John et al., “National Estimates of Drug Court Recidivism Rates,” National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice (July 2003).
15 See Fluellen, Reginald & Trone, Jennifer, “Issues in Brief: Do Drug Courts Save Jail and Prison Beds?”, Vera Institute of Justice (May 2000).
16 See Loeffler, Michael & C. West Huddleston, “DWI/Drug Court Planning Initiative Training Curricula,” National Drug Court Institute (November 2003).
17 See Simpson, D.D., & Curry, S.J. (Eds.), “Special Issue: Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study,” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 11 (1997); Simpson, D.D., & Sells, S.B. “Effectiveness of Treatment for Drug Abuse: An Overview of the DARP Research Program,” Advances in Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Vol. 2, pp. 7-29 (1983); Hubbard, R.L., et al., “Drug Abuse Treatment: A National Study of Effectiveness,” University of North Carolina Press (1989); Center for Substance Abuse Treat ment, “National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study, Preliminary Report: Persistent Effects of Substance Abuse Treatment – One Year Later,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (1996).
18 See Stark, M.J., “Dropping Out of Substance Abuse Treatment: A Clinically Oriented Review,” Clinical Psychological Review, Vol. 12, at p. 93 (1992), as cited in Marlowe, Douglas B., et al., “A Sober Assessment of Drug Courts,” Federal Sentencing Reporter, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 113-128 (2003); Satel, Sally L., “Drug Treatment: The Case for Coercion,” American Enterprise Institute Press (1999).
19 See Huddleston, C. West, “The Promise of Drug Courts: The Philosophy and History,” National Drug Court Institute Training Presentation (2000); Breckenridge, J.F., et al., “Drunk Drivers, DWI “Drug Court” Treatment, and Recidivism: Who Fails?” Justice Research and Policy, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 87-105 (2000); Satel, Sally L., “Drug Treatment: The Case for Coercion,” American Enterprise Institute Press (1999); “DWI/Drug Courts: Defining a National Strategy,” National Drug Court Institute (March 1999).
20 For further information about the Anchorage Wellness Court, see McKelvie, Alan R., “Anchorage Wellness Court Summary of Facts: 2003 Update,” Justice Center, University of Alaska, Anchorage (February 14, 2004), and “Anchorage Wellness Court: 2001-2002 Summary of Facts,” University of Alaska, Anchorage (April 18, 2003).
21 See Jones, R.K., et al., “Problems and Solutions in DWI Enforcement Systems,” NHTSA (1998).
22 See Crancer, Alfred, “An Analysis of Idaho’s Kootenai County DUI Court,” NHTSA Region X (December 2003).
23 For further discussion, see Guerin, P., “Evaluation of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan DWI/Drug Court,” University of New Mexico Institute for Social Research, Center for Applied Research and Analysis (September 2002).
24 For further information about specific DWI/drug courts, see the DUI Courts Web site (www.aca-usa.org/duicourts/home.htm), “Specialized and Problem-Solving Courts – Trends in 2002: DUI Courts,” Keith, Ann L., National Center for State Courts (2002), and “DWI/Drug Courts: Defining a National Strategy,” Appendix A: Advisory Panel Jurisdictions, National Drug Court Institute (March 1999).