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Status Report, Vol. 48, No. 2 | March 14, 2013 Subscribe

Alcohol monitoring curbs repeat arrests for DUI, domestic violence

A South Dakota program that uses twice-daily breath tests to keep people sober after they have been charged with alcohol-related offenses has reduced the number of repeat arrests for driving under the influence (DUI).

In an early look at the program, dubbed the 24/7 Sobriety Project, researchers from the RAND Corp. found it not only resulted in a 12 percent decrease in repeat DUI arrests, but also reduced domestic violence arrests by 9 percent.

The 24/7 program began in 2005 as a five-county pilot project, making twice-daily breath tests a condition of bail for anyone rearrested on a DUI charge. A person who failed or skipped a breath test was immediately jailed for a short term, usually one or two days.

The program was quickly expanded to other counties and other offenses involving alcohol, such as assault and domestic violence. A 2007 law allows judges to order any defendant they believe has an alcohol problem into the program as a condition of bail or a suspended sentence.  In some cases it is a condition of parole or required to regain custody of children removed because of abuse or neglect. DUI offenders still predominate, making up 63 percent of people who entered the program from 2005-10. Participation is required for repeat DUI offenders who have lost their licenses to get permits to drive to and from work. Continuous alcohol-monitoring bracelets sometimes are used instead of breath testing.

Looking at arrest data through 2010, the RAND researchers found a 12 percent reduction in repeat DUI arrests with the program, compared with patterns of arrests in counties without it. Domestic violence arrests were reduced by 9 percent. There was no significant effect on first-time DUI arrests, which isn't surprising since a person wouldn't be directly affected by the program until they have already committed an offense. However, it suggests the program isn't having a broader deterrent effect.

The program is similar in some ways to alcohol interlocks, which many states use to prevent repeat DUI offenses. Unlike the 24/7 program, interlocks don't attempt to prevent drinking in general. They do prevent people who have been drinking from starting their cars and have been shown to keep people from reoffending. After Washington expanded its interlock requirement to everyone convicted of DUI, the recidivism rate for those affected by the expansion fell 12 percent, IIHS researchers found (see "Alcohol ignition interlocks are reducing recidivism among drivers convicted of DUI in Washington," March 6, 2012).

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