The Problem and Costs to Society

Alcohol and drug abuse are significant factors in crimes committed against persons and property. In fact, a recent study — the U.S. Dept. of Justice Report on Alcohol and Crime — identified alcohol abuse as a factor in 40% of violent crimes committed in the U.S. Add in drug-abuse and the numbers grow larger yet. A large percent of U.S. inmates have an admitted drug or alcohol dependency. More than four in ten offenders nationwide return to state prison within three years of their release, despite a massive increase in state spending on prisons, according to a Pew report.

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DUI – An important aspect of the problem

A particularly high-profile problem is “Driving Under the Influence” or DUI. Every year, an estimated one and a half million drivers are arrested for driving while intoxicated. About two-thirds of these drivers are first-time offenders, but the remaining one-third will become repeat offenders. Research indicates these individuals are over four times more likely to be involved in a fatal alcohol-related crash. They are at risk and they put others at risk.

Past efforts to combat DUI have not been successful

For decades, the principal methods for mitigating DUI offenses have been to suspend the offender’s driver’s license or, for multiple infractions, apply increasingly severe sanctions to incarcerate them, or impose vehicle monitoring devices. While traditional efforts to curb drunk driving have been somewhat effective, criminal justice institutions have been quick to embrace other out-of-the-box ideas that make sense and are efficient. On the downside, though, data suggests that:

  • up to 75% of suspended drivers drive illegally
  • less than 40% of those ordered to place an ignition interlock device on their car actually follow the court order; even if they do, the remedy only lasts as long as the device is on the car.

Relying on offenders to modify their own behavior (in the case of DUI, to stop drinking or to disable their car) conflicts with one of the hallmark traits of the alcoholic: denial. When sober, they don’t feel that they have a problem or need to change. But those same individuals, when under the influence, present an increased danger to society and not only when they are behind the wheel of a car. Drug and alcohol addition play a role in a wide range of crimes, especially those involving spousal or family abuse or neglect.

Costs related to ‘impaired driving’ are staggering

At any given minute, one of 50 drivers on the road is drunk. Every weekend night, as high as one out of 10 drivers are impaired. Alcohol and drug related auto accidents are a leading cause of death and injury and the leading cause of deaths among young people. The economic costs of alcohol and drug related car accidents in the United States are staggering and number in the billions of dollars every year. That number grows exponentially once you factor in insurance costs. And that’s just the DUI aspect of drug and alcohol-related offenses.

The bigger picture

Alcohol and drug abuse have been driving the criminal justice system in the United States for decades. A majority of inmates in most jail or prison facilities have alcohol and/or drug addiction issues, and a good many are there solely because of multiple DUI offenses. The cost to taxpayers – who foot the bill for law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, probations and parole departments, social services intervention, treatment facilities, and for building new jails and prisons to meet ever-increasing needs – is substantial and strains budgets for local, state, and federal governments. Government simply does not have the ability to spend as we have for decades to build new institutions and expand criminal justice services for people who abuse alcohol and drugs.

The costs are more than monetary

Less quantifiable but even more serious are the human costs of this problem: loss of life and limb, loss and bereavement of loved ones, medical and psychiatric treatment, the scarred life that results for an individual who has killed or injured others, and the loss of potential realized by individuals who have ongoing alcohol or substance-abuse problems.

A new approach is needed

Clearly, a solution is needed that effectively addresses the underlying problem of substance abuse and motivates repeat offenders to change their behavior and their lives. A 24/7 sobriety management program with structured testing and immediate consequences for failing tests — offers a significant step forward in this area.