Recidivism is a serious issue with all crimes, but when it comes to driving under the influence (DUI), it can mean life or death. In Texas, in 2009 1,235 people died from an alcohol-impaired driving accident, and nationally, one-third of those arrested for drunk driving are repeat offenders. To save lives, it is essential that states formulate DUI penalties and responses that are effective at reducing repeat drunk driving offenses.
South Dakota has made significant strides with its 24/7 Sobriety Project. Under this program, a defendant charged with a second—or greater—DUI who agrees to the terms of the program is barred from consuming any alcohol or drugs, and the offender must undergo daily testing to ensure compliance. Testing can include one or a combination of instruments: twice-daily breath testing, ankle bracelet remote monitors, patches for sweat samples, or urine testing. If the defendant follows the rules, he or she is permitted to stay in his or her community. If the defendant fails a test, he or she faces swift, certain, and meaningful consequences. The defendant is taken into custody immediately, and brought before a judge within one day. Each failed test results in increased penalties, beginning with one or two nights in jail up to revoking the pre-trial release earned by signing up for the program.
The program has experienced promising results. Offenders with two DUIs on their record, who were not on the program, had a recidivism rate of 13.7%; during that same time period, those on the program with their second offense recidivated at a rate of only 3.6%. The passage rate for each of the millions of tests given is over 90%, and the rate of program participants who were totally compliant—meaning they passed every test—was between 66% and 75% for the first four years of the program.
This initiative by South Dakota comports with many of Right on Crime’s core principles, including alternatives to incarceration, swift and certain sanctions, and personal responsibility and accountability. It is encouraging to see, then, that the 24/7 Sobriety Project is being replicated: North Dakota, Montana, and even the United Kingdom have followed suit. Justice advocates are also taking note: the Council of State Government named the project an Innovations Award Winner in 2008.