A new approach to DUI

11 Aug

Human beings seem to have a hard wired desire to punish others for their transgressions. This drive might have served our ancestors well in small band level societies, but it sometimes prevents us from thinking clearly about effective social policy. In behavioral psychology we define punishment as a consequence that reduces the probability of a behavior recurring. We know a lot now about what makes punishment effective, or, as often is the case, ineffective.

Generally, our impulse to increase the severity of punishment for bad behavior has little effect on the recurrence of the undesirable behavior. This article in the Washington Post describes a much more productive approach to dealing with a very undesirable behavior, drunken driving.

Many judges across the country order abstinence as part of parole or probation, but Long decided to actually enforce it. Offenders’ drinking was monitored every single day, typically by in-person breath tests in the morning and evening. In contrast to the typically slow and unpredictable ways of the criminal justice system, anyone caught drinking faced a 100 percent chance of arrest and an immediate consequence — typically 12 to 36 hours in jail.

Recent research suggests that this approach is effective:

The results were impressive, with 24/7 Sobriety participants showing up and passing more than 99 percent of scheduled breathalyzer tests. With alcohol removed from their lives, 24/7 Sobriety participants were less likely to be re-arrested for any offense one year, two years and three years after their initial arrest. The latter two periods are particularly impressive in that individuals were typically on 24/7 Sobriety for less than a year, indicating that the benefits persisted after the program stopped. This is a favorable contrast to alcohol ignition interlocks, which typically reduce drunken driving only for the limited time they are in place on an offender’s vehicle.

Many offenders in the program had served extensive time in jail and prison, so why were they deterred by the prospect of a single night in jail? Midgette emphasizes the typical time horizon of the population, noting that “because heavy drinkers tend to heavily discount the future, deterrence depends much more on the certainty and swiftness of a sanction than its severity.”

4 Responses to “A new approach to DUI”

  1. Enrique Guerra-Pujol August 11, 2017 at 11:24 pm #

    File under: Empirical demonstration of the ideas of Cessare Beccaria.

  2. Kathy H August 12, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    I like this approach to for drunk driving. This works because of the unique nature of the crime and this approach may also work for drug offenses. But this approach does not fit for other types of crimes such a theft, murder, etc.

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