photo - lady justice in profileGuiding Principles for DWI Courts


Determine The Population
A DWI court primarily focuses on repeat offenders charged with driving while impaired by alcohol or illicit drugs and who have been diagnosed with a serious alcohol and/or illicit drug problem. Special emphasis is placed on the previously convicted DWI offender whose fear of prosecution has proven to be an ineffective deterrent to continued drunk driving. A systematic DWI offender referral process ensures that potentially eligible participants are not inadvertently or inappropriately denied the opportunity for participation. The eligibility screening process will eliminate from the pool of potentially eligible participants those offenders who are not appropriate for the program. For those who are still potentially eligible after a review of information contained in legal documents, a face-to-face screening interview is absolutely necessary.

Provide A Clinical Assessment

  • The determination of whether an intoxicated driver is eligible for DWI/drug court is typically based on legal criteria related to that individual’s current impaired-driving charges and recidivism history. In addition, intake staff may administer a brief screening instrument to confirm the individual has a substance abuse problem and is potentially suitable for substance abuse treatment. This, however, is only the first step in conducting a clinically competent assessment of the impaired-driving offender.

  • Effective treatment requires that the offender undergo a thorough clinical assessment to identify relevant impairments and strengths in multiple biopsychosocial domains. An objective clinical assessment should be administered to all DWI court clients, and should address the following domains: (1) severity of alcohol use/abuse; (2) level of care needed and placement in treatment; (3) drug use involvement; (4) medial status; (5) psychiatric status; (6) employment and financial status; (7) family and social status; (8) alcohol triggers and cognitions; and (9) self-efficacy and motivation for change. If the evaluator cannot characterize a client’s needs, strengths, and resources along each of these dimensions, then he or she will have considerable difficulty developing a clinically competent treatment plan for that individual.

Develop A Treatment Model
When developing the treatment model, there are several factors that the DWI court team must consider. The team should: (1) rely on the expertise of treatment and mental health experts; (2) provide cross-training for all DWI court team members on substance abuse, treatment, co-occurring disorders and the criminal justice system; (3) address cultural differences when sentencing offenders to treatment programs; (4) incorporate evidence-based treatment practices; (5) provide greater availability to other intervention strategies (e.g., 12-step programs, victim impact panels, community service, aftercare); (6) address cross-addiction to prescribed medications; and (7) provide specialized cognitive-behavioral treatment modalities, residential/in-patient resources, and jail-based treatment.

Supervise The Offender
There are unique characteristics attributable to those who drive while impaired by alcohol and other drugs. Alcoholics or alcohol abusers, unlike users of illicit drugs, may not have lost the support of their families and friends, and in many cases may still have some semblance of functional lifestyles. Similarly, while involvement with the court may be considered inconvenient or embarrassing, the alcoholic’s family and friends may enable the alcoholic to continue to drink by covering up or denying the problem. As a result, the DWI offender is often in a greater state of denial than other addicts and is therefore more resistant to the goals of the DWI court team and specifically to supervision efforts. The offender who drives while impaired is extraordinarily dangerous; this coupled with the quick dissipation of alcohol from a person’s biological system makes increased supervision a necessity. Public safety remains the paramount concern, and therefore more frequent monitoring by the court, the probation department, and treatment providers must occur. Since there is a potential for a greater level of danger to the public, supervision must be tighter, and the response to violations must be faster and stricter. This supervision may be accomplished through technical innovation, random and frequent drug and alcohol testing, home and other field visits, office contacts, and weekly judicial review.

Forge Agency, Organization, and Community Partnerships
While partnerships are the cornerstone of any effective collaborative program and certainly necessary within the general drug court model, they are perhaps most important in the DWI court setting in which public safety is at great risk. Partnerships fulfill two main purposes: (1) they increase services for program participants, thereby increasing the likelihood of their long-term success; and (2) they gain the support and understanding of agencies and organizations that might otherwise be opposed to DWI courts. Groups that can assist with support or services include chambers of commerce, law enforcement agencies, victim advocacy groups such as MADD, service clubs and organizations, media organizations, defense attorneys and public defenders, other attorneys, insurance companies, treatment groups, 12-step programs, alcoholic beverage control agencies, departments of motor vehicles, schools and colleges, hospitals and medical clinics, faith-based and cultural organizations, and local pharmacies and pharmaceutical groups.

Take A Judicial Leadership Role
DWI courts require courageous judges who are committed to solving the revolving door of the courts. The judge who endeavors to implement a DWI court, or who is assigned the task of being the judge in an existing program, ideally will have extensive experience handling DWI cases. An experienced judge with a strong and positive reputation in the legal community will be in the best position to forge the kinds of partnerships necessary to develop and implement a successful DWI court. The judge must also possess the leadership skills and motivational energy necessary to enlist the assistance and cooperation of the various entities that have a stake in the issue of DWI. The DWI court judge should be a person who tempers his or her judicial authority in a manner that encourages teamwork and empowers others to contribute to the team process. Finally, the DWI court judge must possess a heartfelt deep commitment to and strong personal belief that only by first addressing the underlying problem of substance abuse, does there come an ability to stop future incidences of impaired driving. This will require the judge to expand his or her role and delve into the lives of those who stand before the bench.

Develop Case Management Strategies
Case management--the series of inter-related functions that provide for a coordinated team strategy and seamless collaboration across the treatment and justice systems--is essential for an integrated and effective DWI court. There are five core functions of case management in DWI courts. They are: (1) assessment; (2) planning; (3) linking; (4) monitoring; and (5) advocacy. Although various members of the DWI court team share the performance of these functions, a specially designated team member should serve as the person primarily responsible for coordinating the development and pursuit of participant case plans, linking participants to resources, and monitoring participant and service provider performance.

Address Transportation Issues
Perhaps the most unique aspect that differentiates DWI courts from drug courts is the issue of transportation. Defendants in DWI courts face the suspension or revocation of their privileges to drive as a direct result of their arrests. DWI courts must insist that defendants adhere to any and all restrictions on their driving privileges and should impose sanctions on them for violating those restrictions. DWI court defendants should not be allowed to use lack of transportation as an excuse for not meeting the court’s program requirements. Courts should deal directly with defendants on the issue of transportation. Some jurisdictions have good access to alternative means of transportation such as public transportation, taxi service, bicycle loan programs, bike trails, and so on. Some programs obtain donated bus passes or tokens, and these are distributed to program participants.

Evaluate The Program

  • Many individuals and groups have a vested interest in the effectiveness of the DWI court’s programs. They include the public, victims impact groups, local law enforcement agencies, advocacy groups, health care industry, local funding sources such as county commissions and local planning councils, State funding sources, and the courts. In addition, evaluation of the DWI court’s program is essential to assess whether the program is meeting its benchmarks (e.g. target population, timelines, completion rates, etc.). A DWI court must establish a number of process and outcome measures and determine the best way to collect the necessary data before the court becomes operational. Measures should include: (1) sobriety; (2) re-arrest/post-program recidivism; (3) program capacity; (4) target population; (5) services provided versus accessed; (6) court requirements versus compliance; and (7) retention.

  • Data on the process and outcome measures must be compiled, analyzed and reported on regular intervals to the team and community stakeholders.

Create A Sustainable Program
Sustainability is the last and most important guiding principle of DWI courts. There are several ways to ensure sustainability and to obtain funding for a DWI court: (1) direct donors (e.g., computer companies, drug companies, the insurance industry, or the automobile industry); (2) participant contributions; (3) public entities (e.g., one-time grants, grants that flow through other organizations, or endowments); (4) State funding (e.g., State authorization, legislation and appropriation, general fund or excise liquor taxes or State-regulated liquor outlets), State agencies (e.g., the department of health, mental health, Governors’ Office of Highway/Traffic Safety), and local agencies (e.g., city councils, county commissions, boards of health, housing agencies, or law enforcement agencies). The best way to approach this issue is to research other DWI courts to learn how they have obtained funding and achieved long-term sustainability. Ultimately, the success of each DWI court is based on the resources in its own community, coupled with its ability to find additional resources or funding as needed.