My name is Mark Stodola and I very much look forward to “talking” about the myriad of issues and challenges in the supervision of impaired drivers. I have the honor of serving as the Probation Fellow for APPA, funded through an agreement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). By way of background, NHTSA created the Probation Fellow position in 2009 to explore and advance ways in which probation can work effectively with, and learn from other impaired driving stakeholders to reduce recidivism among impaired driving offenders. These stakeholders include law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges; along with law enforcement liaisons, traffic safety resource prosecutors, and judicial outreach liaisons who share, peer-to-peer, impaired driving resources throughout their professional communities.
One of the primary purposes of the Probation Fellow position is to provide training, education, and technical assistance to probation officers and other criminal justice professionals regarding impaired driving responses and to promote promising sentencing and supervision practices related to impaired driving. Over the past 2 years I have had the opportunity to meet with probation staff at both statewide and national conferences to discuss some of the unique issues of working with this challenging population. I have found several trends in the assessment and supervision of DWI offenders that lead to creation of this blog topic. They include the lack of risk/needs assessments and adequate DWI assessment tools, DWI cases being placed on administrative supervision or placed on banked caseloads, insufficient staff training on DWI offenders, one-size-fits-all technology and a lack of evidence-based treatment. It’s my hope that we can discuss these as well as any other DWI related topics that are of interest to you. First let’s get some background.
According to NHTSA, there were 9,967 fatalities in 2014 in crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher; this was 31% of total traffic fatalities for the year. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013 there were more than 4.7 million individuals on community supervision in the United States. Of this population, approximately 15% of the individuals on probation or parole have a driving while impaired (DWI) conviction and approximately 8% have multiple DWI convictions. While statistics show that about two-thirds of individuals convicted of a DWI will self-correct, another one-third continue to drive impaired and pose a significant threat to our communities. These are the high-risk impaired drivers who often end up on adult probation caseloads. As is the case with each type of offender, high-risk impaired drivers pose several challenges for supervision officials. Some of the common challenges include:
• manipulative behavior;
• denial of a substance abuse problem;
• lack of recognition or minimal insight into the criminal nature of their actions; and
• minimal motivation to change behavior.
This offender population typically lacks a formal education and is often unemployed or under-employed. At the same time, the cost to offenders, the courts and taxpayers for the supervision of this population including court fines and fees, treatment, and alcohol monitoring technologies, as well as indirect expenses due to loss of license, can be significantly higher than for other individuals on community supervision.
A typical adult probation caseload might consist of 70 or more individuals with convictions for a variety of different offenses including DWI. In many jurisdictions, impaired drivers end up on banked or unsupervised caseloads due to the offense being classified as either a misdemeanor or low level felony, resulting in limited assessment and supervision.
When faced with the specter of effectively addressing the numerous issues that DWI probationers present with (e.g., lifetime of alcohol and/or drug dependence, mental health issues, etc.), community supervision officers typically need to consider the following areas as part of the continuum of supervision.
- Risk/Needs Assessments: Generic assessment tools are not always adequate indicators of risk and needs of DWI offenders. To address this need, APPA, with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has developed the Impaired Driver Assessment tool. This tool measures risk (i.e., the likelihood of conviction for a subsequent DWI) by examining alcohol use, as well as other considerations for recidivism such as mental health, resistance and noncompliance, non-drug and alcohol arrests and convictions. (Link to IDA- http://www.appa-net.org/eweb/eweb/docs/APPA/pubs/SRNUIDA.pdf)
- Supervision Plans: Using assessments as a roadmap, probation officers are better able to develop individualized case or supervision plans that outline strategies and treatment services that will help hold impaired driver probationers accountable and promote prosocial behavioral change. To be meaningful, however, jurisdictions must have appropriate and research-based resources and services available for this population of offenders to build into the plan.
- Partnership and Collaboration: Probation officers can maximize their success with the DWI population by active partnership and collaboration with community resources. Such resources would include technologies such as ignition interlock and transdermal alcohol monitoring devices as well drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, transitional housing, employment and support groups.
- Community-based substance abuse treatment: Substance abuse treatment programming should be researched based, assessment driven and geared to address the needs of the individual, not the offense.
- Training and Research: Because of some of the unique issues and needs with the high risk DWI population, probation staff should be receiving training on the latest research that will assist in providing evidence based supervision to promote compliance.
Does your department have mechanisms in place to more effectively supervise DWI offenders? What are some of the challenges and successes that you have experienced in working with the DWI population in your jurisdiction?
Share your thoughts with APPA through the comments to this blog.