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A stubborn, deadly one-third: Drunken driving fatalities


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A stubborn, deadly one-third: Drunken driving fatalities

The DUI treatment court in Illinois mixes intense alcohol monitoring with treatment.

August 06, 2013 | By Ted Gregory | Chicago Tribune reporter PEORIA — Justin Duncan was arrested on

charges of driving under the influence twice in two years and landed in Judge Kim Kelley’s courtroom, the trenches in the war against drunken driving.

Room 123 of the Peoria County Courthouse is DUI treatment court. One of only three in Illinois, Kelley’s court mixes intense alcohol monitoring with treatment. It’s a microcosm of a nationwide patchwork that shows promise in places but fuels debate over where to go next to reduce a seemingly intractable problem.

Drunken driving deaths account for 30 percent of traffic deaths in the U.S. and in Illinois, and they have remained at that level or higher for 20 years, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show. Nearly

10,000 deaths and, by some estimates, $132 billion in higher insurance, medical and property costs and taxes are caused by drunken driving crashes every year.

To cut those numbers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pressing for wider use of breath alcohol ignition interlock devices. In May the National Transportation Safety Board recommended tightening the legal definition of intoxication. And in July, Illinois started using ignition interlock devices with cameras to prevent motorists charged with drunken driving from scamming the devices.

For Duncan, DUI treatment court may be the answer. If he had been arrested almost anyplace other than Peoria County, he would have been thrown into an overwhelmed, inefficient system of protracted court cases, spotty treatment and sometimes severe punishment imposed after the most serious, often fatal, damage is done. In DUI treatment court, Duncan said, he has marked one year and four months without alcohol and four years without drugs. It was clear at Duncan’s treatment review hearing on a recent Thursday morning that Kelley was pleased with the progress.

“Are you sleeping well?” Kelley asked, sounding more like an uncle than a criminal court judge. “Do you take a nice walk in the evening?”

Repeat DUI offender Faye McNamara, 23, of Lacon, Ill., near Peoria, is participating in a court-ordered DUI treatment program, which she has nearly completed. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)


Duncan answered that he’s working out regularly. His most serious weak spot, he said, is sweet baked goods. “You could learn to bake healthy things, too,” Kelley responded, “right?”

Outside court, Duncan, a tall, angular 31-year-old with a wispy beard and bracelet-ringed wrists, said he would “be dead and gone” if he hadn’t come through the DUI treatment court. “I was very reckless,” added Duncan, of Hanna City.

Instead, he said, he was promoted a day earlier at his job as a call center customer service rep.

“This thing has got me so happy now,” Duncan said of the program. “I know I can succeed. I am one big confident person now. I feel like I can take anything.

“Once you actually get your head clear, I don’t even think about smoking pot anymore. I don’t even think about bars. I don’t think about drinking.”

Kelley said Duncan’s experience is widely shared by participants in DUI treatment court.

“I have people come up here all the time and tell me it’s worked,” said Kelley, who has coordinated DUI court since 2009. “I’ve had people thank me for placing them in a SCRAM bracelet. I’ve had people tell me they’d never have been able to change their life until I put them in one. I’ve had family members come and thank me.”

The SCRAM bracelet, known in the industry as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor or in slang as the “Lindsay Lohan bracelet,” is a plastic device about the size of a cigarette pack strapped above the ankle of a repeat drunken driver. Every half-hour, SCRAM screens for alcohol in the wearer’s perspiration.

The bracelet is the central component of a court program that begins when a motorist is arrested for DUI in Peoria County and is screened for alcohol addiction tendencies. If those are evident or if a motorist has been convicted of a second or third DUI, they move to DUI treatment court.

For a year to 18 months, an offender agrees to abstain from alcohol and drugs; wear the SCRAM device and/or undergo rigorous, random alcohol and drug testing; and attend treatment sessions and therapy groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

If the participant drinks alcohol, ingests drugs or misses treatment or therapy sessions, he or she often pays with a stint in jail. If participants follow the regimen, they are complimented along the way — much like Kelley’s avuncular exchange with Duncan, who is close to finishing the program successfully.

The most powerful aspect of the DUI treatment court experience was hearing other people’s accounts of beating their alcohol and drug habits, Duncan said.

“To hear other people who opened up, saying that they need help and things like that,” Duncan said, “it made me think if they can be honest with themselves, why can’t I?”

An outgrowth of the drug treatment court model started in the late 1980s in Florida, the first DUI court was created in 1994 near Las Cruces, N.M. Peoria County established its court around 2005, after Kelley’s

predecessor, Rebecca Steenrod, attended a conference where experts noted that the drug court protocol worked for DUI cases and obtained a state grant to get the court started.


Courts says. Research suggests they work.

An Arizona study from the late 1990s to the early 2000s showed that 3.6 percent of DUI treatment court “graduates” had gotten arrested for DUI two years after completing the program, compared with 5.4 percent of standard probation graduates. A NHTSA multiyear study of DUI treatment courts in Georgia found that “graduates” had a recidivism rate 38 to 65 percent lower than offenders in traditional programs, and a 2007 Michigan study concluded that DUI courts there had a significant effect in reducing recidivism, drug and alcohol use and criminal justice costs.

But apart from the salaries of the judge and a probation officer, funding for Peoria County’s DUI court largely hinges on participants’ ability to pay for services, and that presents problems. Bracelets are available to those who can pay $5 to $22 per day for one, which often leaves indigent hard-core drunken drivers with no choice but jail. Treatment also can be difficult to obtain for those unable to pay.

That insufficient funding to accommodate the indigent, the general lack of revenue for the program and the number of DUI offenders — Kelley said he gets about 700 new cases a year — are his biggest challenges, he said. “What we’ve had to do is take the principles and stretch them a bit,” Kelley said. “You’ve got to make

compromises and you’ve got to figure out the strategies that work best with the time you have and the money you have.”

More work to be done

The raw numbers make it clear that the nation and Illinois have made dramatic progress in reducing the number of DUI crashes.

In 1982, NHTSA recorded more than 21,000 drunken driving deaths, about half of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. In 2011, the most recent year of results, 9,878 people were killed in crashes where drivers were intoxicated, or 31 percent of all traffic fatalities, the agency says.

Illinois has experienced the same trend, reducing drunken driving deaths to 278 in 2011 from nearly 800 in 1982, according to NHTSA.

But the percentage of deaths attributed to drunken driving has flattened since 1992, accounting for 30 to about 38 percent of all traffic fatalities since then nationally and in Illinois, NTHSA records show.

“It shows that we’ve gotten what we’re going to get out of education,” said J.T. Griffin, head of public policy at MADD. He said the focus needs to shift to stronger laws and enforcing those laws.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that law enforcement agencies have reached the limits of their resources.

Everyone studying the issue agrees that more needs to be done, but exactly what remains open to debate. “People are sort of scratching their heads, saying what do we need to do to bring that number down?” Griffin said.

Higher taxes, lower limits?


drug and alcohol policy for more than 30 years, recommends raising taxes on alcohol. He contends that measure would hit the heaviest alcohol consumers hardest, decrease abuse and raise revenue.

Kleiman also advocates a “nondrinking driver’s license” system in which establishments selling alcohol would card all customers. When a customer flashes the nondrinking driver’s license, he or she is denied the purchase. Another option came from the NTSB, which in May recommended lowering the legal limit for driver’s alcohol concentration to 0.05 from the current 0.08 blood alcohol content, a move the NTSB says would save up to 800 lives a year.

But that call has brought resistance from the highly influential MADD, among others. MADD is pushing for expanded use of ignition interlocks, devices that require a driver to blow into a measuring device. If the device detects alcohol on the breath of the driver, the engine cannot start.

The organization would prefer ignition interlocks for all motorists convicted of driving under the influence, an idea that has widespread support. That strategy combined with impounding vehicles and adopting other approaches that encompass everyone who drinks and drives will work on first-time offenders and hard-core drunken drivers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research indicates.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is a proponent of ignition interlocks and has used them since 2001. But White also is intrigued by a South Dakota program, 24/7 Sobriety Project, that is widely praised.

Created as a pilot in 2005, 24/7 is a stripped-down version of DUI court that has spread through South Dakota, North Dakota and several other states. 24/7 requires repeat DUI offenders to undergo twice-a-day testing or continuous monitoring through the electronic bracelet or drug patch. An ignition interlock also may be included. Treatment is separate.

The offender pays for participating. If alcohol or drugs are detected, he or she is jailed promptly, typically for a few days.

A study published in January in the American Journal of Public Health found that 24/7 led to a 12 percent drop in repeat DUI arrests and a 9 percent reduction in domestic violence arrests. Proponents also note that 24/7 cuts costs by reducing the prison population. UCLA’s Kleiman called 24/7 “brilliant.”

Key ‘piece of puzzle’

But critics contend that applying 24/7’s rigorous testing in densely populated areas would be impossible.

MADD’s Griffin said his organization prefers to focus on first-time offenders. Repeat DUI violators “are a piece of the puzzle,” he said. “But to ignore that first-time offender at 0.08 is really to ignore the problem as a whole.” Judge Kelley sees ignition interlocks as failing to address the central concern of problem drinking. He also noted that chronic drinkers often find others’ cars to use. The judge is a believer that robust DUI treatment courts are the answer and that they are few in number because “DUI is still looked on in our society as a minor problem.” J. Michael Kavanaugh, a retired judge and senior director of the National Center for DWI Courts, said he is not aware of any plans to expand the treatment courts in Illinois.


But every option has its vulnerable spots. Faye McNamara knows that.

After her second DUI, in 2011, the 23-year-old from Lacon entered inpatient treatment as part of Peoria’s DUI court and stayed clean and sober until a relapse in May of this year. The consequence was 15 days in jail. Just as difficult, she said, were the double punch of thousands of dollars in court-imposed fines and the suspension of her driver’s license, preventing her from getting to a job to pay the fines.

Sitting outside Kelley’s courtroom with her father and toddler daughter, McNamara maintained that she was grateful for the inpatient treatment, that it was very effective. She relapsed because she was trying to prove that alcohol wasn’t the problem, McNamara explained, and learned she was wrong.

“It’s work every day,” McNamara said of staying sober. “It really is one day at a time.”


Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611 http://www.chicagotribune.com/


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