A DWI conviction is serious criminal offense… even with harsh penalties such as license suspension, jail time, and hefty fines, however, DWI arrests continue to be a common occurrence throughout Minnesota and the rest of the country. In 2012 alone, over 28,000 drivers in the state were arrested for driving while impaired.
Unfortunately, fines and time behind bars are not always the answer for individuals struggling with alcohol or substance abuse. As an alternative, repeat DWI offenders may be placed in one of the state’s DWI court programs. The National Center for DWI Courts leads the DWI court efforts, supported by entities such as the U.S. Department of Transportation.
DWI courts aim to reduce the number of alcohol-related injuries and fatalities and increase public safety through effective partnership of the justice system and community resources to focus on the specific issues of repeat DWI offenders.
Instead of focusing on punishing offenders, DWI courts concentrate on treatment and changing a person’s behavior. A DWI court generally works toward changing a repeat drunken driver offender’s behavior through treatments such as behavior therapy, regular interaction with probation officers, frequent drug and alcohol testing, and a driver’s license reinstatement plan. In many DWI courts, participants are also taught to enhance life-skills with services such as education, family counseling, and job training.
While DWI courts are voluntary, individuals must first qualify to participate in the treatment programs. They must also commit to the program for at least one year before being able to graduate. The possibility of incarceration looms for individuals who fail the program.
A judge, supported by members of the criminal justice system such as defense attorneys and prosecutors, closely monitor the participants of DWI court. The coordinated efforts of treatment specialists, social services, and victim advocates are also utilized to intervene and break the cycle of drunk driving and chemical dependency.
At present, the state of Minnesota has 16 DWI and hybrid DWI/drug courts. Two of the largest DWI courts in the state are in Hennepin County and Ramsey County, where they serve individuals who are classified as high-risk for recidivism and high-need for treatment. The rest of the DWI courts, with the first being established in 2005, are found in rural counties such as Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods. In 2015, DWI courts will expand into Polk, Red Lake, and Norman counties.
Of the dozens of drug courts and DWI courts that have been researched in the past, the study in Minnesota was the first to contain a cost analysis. State officials believe that the specialty courts in Minnesota are successful at reducing recidivism and saving taxpayers’ money. The national study revealed that the state’s DWI courts have been successful in saving the state money and helping individuals obtain the treatment and help that they need. Over a two-year period, the state and local agencies have saved over $1.4 million.
Hopefully, Legislature continues its generous funding for DWI courts so that they may expand to all over the state. For now, however, repeat DWI offenders in jurisdictions without DWI court options will likely face an automatic trip to prison.