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DWI Courts

DWI Courts are specialized, post-conviction court programs that provide a structure of appropriate treatment, supervision, and accountability. These specialty courts follow the well-established Drug Court model and are based on the premise that drunk driving can be prevented if the underlying causes of the DWI offending (e.g., substance dependence and mental health issues) are identified and addressed.

The population that these courts are developed for are DWI offenders who are not deterred by traditional sanctions and are most resistant to behavior change (demonstrated by their multiple convictions). These offenders are classified as high risk/high need. Each DWI Court participant will have an individualized supervision and treatment plan that is designed to address both their risk level and their needs.

In contrast to the traditional court process which is adversarial in nature, in DWI Courts a team approach is utilized. Judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, law enforcement, probation officers, treatment practitioners and other involved stakeholders work collaboratively with court participants and offer both support and accountability.

In the event of violations, DWI Courts are able to respond swiftly to the offender behavior with graduated sanctions. Practitioners also use positive reinforcements to encourage positive behavior and motivate offenders to seek long-term change.

A large body of research supports the effectiveness of DWI Courts in reducing recidivism. For example:

  • A Michigan study of three DWI Courts found that participants were 19 times less likely to be re-arrested for another drunk driving offense during a two-year follow-up period than offenders processed through a traditional court. DWI Courts were also determined to be cost-effective and efficient in the adjudication and supervision of offenders.
  • An evaluation of three Georgia DWI Courts funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that DWI Court participants had a recidivism rate of 15% (this includes participants who were terminated from the program in addition to those who graduated) compared to a recidivism rate of 35% among DWI offenders who were processed through traditional courts. It is estimated that DWI Courts prevented between 47 and 122 repeat DWI arrests over a four-year period. supports the DWI Court model and recognizes the importance of utilizing an approach that balances accountability and rehabilitation to address offending among the high risk/high need DWI offender population. We further support the National Center for DWI Courts’ expansion efforts  to bring this model to counties across the country to address the problem of hardcore drunk drivers. Read our complete policy position here.

Additional resources:

National Center for DWI Courts (NCDC)

The 10 Guiding Principles of DWI Courts (NCDC)

National Drug Court Resource Center (NADCP/NCDC)

2015 Michigan DWI Sobriety Court Ignition Interlock Evaluation

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