South Dakota sobriety program could work here

It's been said that the 50 states are the laboratories of good government.

One state, South Dakota, has invented a successful program to curb repeat drunk drivers that should be replicated in Maine.

The 24/7 Sobriety Project is so straightforward that it is surprising it took this long to emerge.

Here's how it works.

Repeat offenders, usually those with three or more drunk- or drugged-driving convictions, are immediately assigned to the program in lieu of losing their driving license or going to jail.

Instead, they are required to show up twice a day at their local sheriff's office for a brief drug or alcohol test.

Those who live too far from sheriff's office to travel are given drug patches, which can be tested periodically, or a SCRAM bracelet.

The bracelet tests the wearer's sweat once an hour for the presence of alcohol. The user arranges to be close to a computer modem once a day to transmit the information to police.

The goals are threefold:

First, to immediately force people into complete and verifiable 24/7 sobriety, the first step to becoming clean and sober.

The state found that simply taking a driver's license from a person does not necessarily change the underlying habit. People go right back home or to taverns and continue drinking, increasingly the likelihood they will eventually again drive drunk.

What's more, offenders can continue to hold down jobs and support their families.

Second, public safety is enhanced. As we have seen countless times, simply yanking a person's license does not keep him or her from driving.

Finally, it saves taxpayer dollars by drastically reducing the number of drug and alcohol violators behind bars.

A recent report found that Maine's incarceration expenses were 136 percent higher than a handful of similar rural states. Bringing us to the average could save millions per year.

Offenders pay $1 for each alcohol test in the 24/7 program and $6 per day for a SCRAM bracelet, largely offsetting the cost of the program.

The results have been impressive. Quoting from the Project's annual report:

As of January 2010, nearly 13,000 offenders participated in the twice-daily alcohol breath testing. They took over 2.4 million tests, passing 99.6 percent of them. More than 66 percent were totally compliant during the entire term of their participation.

As of November 2009, 1,755 offenders wore the SCRAM ankle bracelet. Offenders wore them for an average 125 days, and 77.8 percent were totally compliant.

Forty offenders wore drug patches, passing 92.8 of the time.

Skeptics will point to a heavier workload for sheriff's departments. Yet in South Dakota, the state has saved millions of dollars in corrections expenses to more than offset the costs.

But the most compelling evidence that the program works can be found in lives saved.

From 2006 to 2007, alcohol-impaired driving deaths in South Dakota dropped 33 percent, while the U.S. death rate dropped 4 percent. It then dropped another 45 percent in 2007-2008.

To be fair, the state has also stepped up enforcement, conducted a media campaign and revised its DUI classes for offenders.

Versions of the 24/7 program are being considered in several states.

Maine should be among them.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

1 in 3

On weekend 1 in3 drivets in maine are over the limit. During yhe week days its 1 in 5. 66 percent compliance is above average.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

For ever; it just makes too

For ever; it just makes too much sense. And besides, our role models, California, Massachusetts, and Vermont don't have it yet.

 's picture

maine won't

it "unfairly singles out" people who have "problems" and makes them "feel like criminals". forcing people to take responsibility for their own actions is not on the agenda. this system would be far too humiliating and would require far too much restraint. it impedes on freedoms while dehumanizes people.

 's picture

This sounds like it works

This sounds like it works well, but it does not satisfy the publics need for vengeance, and that seems to be far more important than safety these days.

34% drank at some point during their entire time on the program, they didn't drive drunk. In Maine the number of people who have lost their license to an OUI and still drink is more like 100%. Ultimately, that is the goal and with a 45% drop in death rates, I'd say its working.

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