Waterford court helps to spotlight success of DWI/Sobriety Court Ignition Interlock Program

The Oakland County 51st District Court in Waterford was one of five partner problem-solving courts in a study evaluating the effectiveness of ignition interlock devices in reducing drunk driving rates by chronic offenders. The report concludes that the devices, when used in conjunction with a DWI/Sobriety Court program, contribute to significantly better success rates among participants.

“The data tell a compelling success story. With the help of these devices, DWI/Sobriety Courts are solving problems and saving lives,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. “This demonstrates another way courts statewide are measuring performance to improve outcomes for the public.”

An ignition interlock device connects with a motor vehicle’s ignition and other control systems. The interlock device measures the driver’s bodily alcohol content through their breath and keeps the vehicle from starting if the BAC is 0.025 or higher. 

Among the most significant findings: in comparison to non-interlock offenders in DWI/Sobriety Court, and to standard probationers, Interlock Program Participants have the lowest recidivism rates after one, two, three and four years of follow-up. For instance, the rate of Interlock Program Participants who were re-convicted of a drunk driving offense within four years of follow-up was 3.5 percent, compared to 8.2 percent for the Non-Interlock Comparison Group and 8.3 percent for the Standard Probationers during the same time period.   

The MSC State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) contributed to the report, which was commissioned by the Michigan Association of Treatment Court Professionals (MATCP) to evaluate the first five years of the DWI/Sobriety Court Ignition Interlock Program. It was released at a news conference in Lansing Wednesday as part of Alcohol Awareness Month by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, 56A District Court Judge Harvey Hoffman, 54A District Judge Louise Alderson, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, and Sen. Rick Jones. A program graduate was also in attendance to share his success story.

In addition to the 51st District Court, the following courts also participated in the study: 

• 8th District Court (Kalamazoo; Kalamazoo County).
• 61st District Court (Grand Rapids; Kent County).
• 86th District Court (Traverse City; Grand Traverse County).
• 96th District Court (Marquette; Marquette County).

Statistics for the group of DWI/Sobriety Court participants using interlocks were compared to a similar group that did not use the devices. Other report findings:

—Ninety-seven percent of Sobriety Court participants ordered by the court to install interlock devices on their vehicles complied with the orders.

—Nearly 89 percent (591 out of 667) of Sobriety Court participants using an interlock device succeeded in graduating from DWI/Sobriety Court, compared to only 66 percent (267 out of 404) of DWI/Sobriety Court participants not using the interlock device.

—Alcohol and drug use among Sobriety Court participants using an interlock was substantially lower in comparison to the offenders not under interlock supervision.

—Sobriety Court participants using an interlock were more likely to improve their levels of education between the start and completion of their programs.

—Sobriety Court participants using an interlock spent less time in jail, had fewer warrants issued against them and enjoyed a higher number of overall sobriety days.

Judge Hoffman implemented Michigan’s first DWI/Sobriety Court in Eaton County in 2009, and is a state and national leader in the development of this kind of problem-solving court, which combines judicial supervision with testing, treatment, punitive sanctions and positive incentives for participants.

“The marriage of DWI/Sobriety Courts with ignition interlocks when dealing with repeat DWI offenders has helped to make Michigan’s roads and highways safer, and has improved the lives of alcoholic drivers,” said Hoffman, who represented MATCP on the study. “The partnership between Michigan’s courts and the Secretary of State in allowing program participants to lawfully drive to and from court, treatment, school, testing and employment has been crucial in spreading DWI/Sobriety Courts across the state.”