A Drop In Drunk Driving Fatalities Shows An Unorthodox Court System Is Actually Working

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DWI Courts — intensive treatment programs designed to rehabilitate repeat DWI offenders — have been bashed for being too soft on habitual offenders, but new stats show that they may actually be working.Impaired driving fatalities dropped 2.5 per cent in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

One possible reason for this drop may be DWI Courts — especially considering there are more than 600 across the country.

People who participated in DWI Courts in Georgia are 65 per cent less likely to be re-arrested for driving under the influence once they complete the program, according to the court system.

David Wallace, the senior director for the National centre for DWI Courts, argues that these results show just how well the system works.

When offenders are arrested for driving under the influence, they’re evaluated to see whether a DWI Court will actually help them. If someone is just a social drinker and not an addict, being forced into an intensive treatment program could actually backfire and make them drink more, Wallace said.

From there, each offender works with a team of about seven people, including a cop, probation officer, and a treatment provider, who shepherd them through an 18-month treatment program.

“Everyone is all focused on the same goal,” Wallace told Business Insider, with that goal being to help the offender, not condemn him.

That teamwork is what sets DWI Courts apart from the typical judicial system. All the authorities involved stay on the same page and all are focused on helping the offender kick his or addiction.

DWI Courts differ from the traditional judicial system by focusing on positive reinforcement and offering incentives like gift cards or even just applause for defendants who stay on the straight and narrow.

“Praise is a huge incentive for all of us,” Wallace said.

On the flip side, offenders are punished for violations such as failing a drug test or missing court, among other things.

If the offender fails the twice-weekly drug test, he might be forced to be drug tested every day. Wallace said he’s also seen DWI Court judges assign offenders to write a paper about whatever he did to get in trouble with the court.

And while an option, Wallace said jail time is not the first resort.

“We use sanctions, one, strategically and, two, in a graduated fashion,” Wallace said. “You don’t want to use the big hammer right away.”

Critics of DWI Courts argue they coddle repeat offenders and praise them for doing something they should already be doing.

Comments left on a 2010 Columbia Tribune story about Boone County, Mo’s., first DWI Court reflect the backlash against DWI courts. Quite a few commenters criticised giving habitual offenders multiple chances and bemoaned the idea that society has gone soft on crime.

But Wallace said that offenders are often so addicted to alcohol or drugs they don’t actually know how to behave the right way and the incentives go a long way in reinforcing positive behaviour.

Regardless, DWI Courts seem to be a growing trend. There are now 600 DWI Courts around the U.S., and this year alone nine states added DWI Courts, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Texas. 

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