County joins program for repeat DUI offenders

The ChronicleJanuary 2, 2014 

Thurston County is participating in a drug and alcohol monitoring program for repeat DUI offenders.

Five jurisdictions statewide are taking part in the 24/7 Sobriety Program, which began Wednesday. The program is overseen by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

The cities of Centralia and Kent, as well as Spokane and Chelan counties, also are involved.

Under the 24/7 program, Lewis County courts can order repeat offenders — drivers with two or more DUIs — into the program instead of into jail.

Participants must either take supervised breathalyzer tests twice a day or wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet.

According to WASPC President Bruce Bjork, judges may order the 24/7 program on its own or in conjunction with ignition interlock, which requires the offender to pass a breathalyzer test before starting his car.

“If they pass, they go about their lives,” Bjork said. “If they fail, they go to jail.”

Participants must pay for their testing.

The sobriety program began in South Dakota in 2005 and has since been adopted by North Dakota and Montana.

According to Bjork, it has decreased recidivism in all three states.

“The whole premise is intense alcohol monitoring and swift and sure actions,” Bjork said. “The larger goal of course is increasing public safety, decreasing recidivism, and creating an alternative to being placed in jail. Monitoring allows the offender to keep their job, stay with their family, contribute to the community. The goal is to change behavior.”

24/7’s model aligns with other law enforcement programs including the “Swift and Certain” incarceration model, which went into action at the beginning of 2013. Under that system, low-risk parole violations, such as testing positive for drugs or alcohol, result in immediate one- to three-day jail sentences.

Bjork says the five jurisdictions were chosen to provide diverse study data.

“We chose based on geographic and demographic information,” he said. “We were looking for urban and rural environments, large and small populations, counties and cities.”

In its 2013 session, the Legislature awarded $300,000 to the traffic safety commission, which passed the money through to the 24/7 Sobriety Program.

The program’s pilot phase will last through this funding biennium.

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