Treatment or Punishment

Treatment or Punishment: Sentencing Options in DWI Cases

Author: Gene Flango, Ph.D (June 2016)

Abstract: In 1996 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) produced A Guide to Sentencing DUI Offenders to assist judges and prosecutors in reducing recidivism among people convicted of drinking and driving offenses (known as driving under the influence, DUI, or driving while impaired, DWI). This Guide, which was updated in 2005, was designed to provide information on matching offenders to the most effective combination of sanctions and treatment, especially for repeat offenders. The original purpose of this essay was to update the evaluations of sentencing options in light of recent research and new sentencing options, such as DWI courts.

In reviewing the recent sentencing literature, it is clear that reduced recidivism is the most frequently used measure of success. This is the best measure of success for sentences whose objective is to treat offenders so they will not be likely to drink and drive again. However, I would argue that it is not fair to use recidivism as a measure for sentencing options designed not to rehabilitate, but to punish offenders for serious, even fatal, driving offenses. To measure more accurately the success of treatment using recidivism as the criterion of success, sentences designed to punish need to be identified and subtracted from all offenses. This requires that sentences be separated into two categories:  those designed to punish and those designed to treat the offenders. Unfortunately, it was difficult to do this using current data on recidivism, so offenses here are classified into punishment and treatment categories so that these distinctions can be made in the future. With punishment options removed, the effectiveness of treatment options will be more easily evaluated.

 For the present, what is the role of the legal system in the reduction of DWI offenses? Read the full article by clicking here!