Employment, In-House Services Lead to Success for DWI Courts

A gavel, an alcoholic drink and car keys.

Offenders from a Texas DWI court were more likely to succeed in the program if they were employed and followed curriculum developed and delivered by local criminal justice and treatment professionals, a study at Sam Houston State University found.

The study, one of only two evaluations of the effectiveness of DWI courts in Texas, focused on Williamson County with a population of 400,000. Its 12-month program integrates local criminal justice resources, active case management and alcohol treatment for targeted offenders in lieu of incarceration. The program is divided into three phases -- treatment and close supervision, aftercare supervision, and maintenance.

Offenders who participated in the Williamson County DWI Court program between 2006 and 2011 had significantly lower recidivism rates than those incarcerated on the second DWI offense. In the DWI Court, the recidivism rate was 2.5 percent, compared to 6.3 percent among the jail population.

A team of people work on files in a courtroom.The study, which also took into consideration the demographics and risk assessments of offenders, found that employment was the best predictor for success in the DWI Court program. Offenders who were employed at the time of the program were five times more likely to graduate than their counterparts. Recidivism rates also dropped when an in-house team developed and delivered the program rather than an outside vendor.

The study also found that offenders who had to repeat the first four months of the program due to a relapse were eight times more likely to drop out of the program.

“Early program success, employment and in-house service delivery were predictors for success in the program,” said Dr. Jihong (Solomon) Zhao, co-author of the study and a Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology. “None of the other issues, such as demographics or risk assessments, were associated with graduation or recidivism rates.”

Dr. Jihong (Solomon) Zhao
Dr. Jihong (Solomon) Zhao
In Williamson County, The DWI Court targets non-violent offenders who experience a second DWI offense. A special core team, including a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a probation officer, treatment professional and program evaluator, follow the case for at least a year. By meeting weekly, the team helps the offender through treatment and identifies issues and concerns as they arise.

“One of the primary goals of the program is to help DWI offenders become clean, sober and law-abiding citizens,” said the report. “This program reflects the belief that deterrence through punishment such as jail sentence alone cannot reach the desired goal of alcohol secession.”

Dr. Ling Ren
Dr. Ling Ren
The study, co-authored by Dr. Ling Ren, included 227 offenders enrolled in the DWI Court program between 2006 and 2011 and examined the effectiveness of the program by identifying the principal factors associated with an offender’s graduation, the predictors of rearrest within two years and the effects of the change from in-house treatment curriculum versus an outside vendor service.

From 2006-2008, the program was run by an outside vendor and between 2009-2011, the county hired local treatment and criminal justice professionals to select offenders and operate the program. The recidivism rate with an in-house program was 2.5 percent, compared with 11 percent with an outside vendor.

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