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Gaining traction: DUI court programs for repeat offenders

Ohio and a host of other states have DUI courts, and that instrument for addressing problem drinking and the heavy toll that drunk drivers exact in serious and often fatal car accidents is a growing phenomenon that is steadily gaining traction in jurisdictions across the country.

Officials from the NHTSA say that fatal car crashes attributed to drunk driving have declined perceptibly over a recent measuring period, and many people who vigorously support DUI courts say that those venues are a central reason for that.

Compared with other states, Ohio began availing itself of the resources and methods of such courts relatively early, and there are now more than 600 such courts operating throughout the country.

Their thrust and feel is quite different from a standard criminal court, where punishment — often including a jail or prison term — is meted out to repeat offenders who are deemed a safety risk to the public.

DUI courts, conversely, focus on rehabilitation and the curing of addictions through cost-effective therapy that is administered over a lengthy period — often 18 months or so — and pursuant to a team concept that incorporates input from various professionals. Although a “stick” approach to the program is intrinsic, with jail term and revocation of privileges being a quick possibility for participants who fail tests, don’t show up as required or otherwise fall short of requirements, positive reinforcement and incentives are more commonly employed.

The ultimate goal: a participant’s graduation from the court program and reintegration into society with a greatly reduced potential for recidivism.

Critics of such programs say that they are overly lenient and do not sufficiently punish habitual offenders. Proponents reply that punishment is less important than rehabilitation, and point to the constantly growing number of DUI courts as evidence that they work.

Source: Business Insider, “A drop in drunk driving fatalities shows an unorthodox court system is actually working,” Abby Rogers, Dec. 16, 2012