San Joaquin County, CA – Located in California’s Central Valley just east of the San Francisco Bay area, San Joaquin County has approximately 715,000 residents. The area is known as one of the most agriculturally rich areas in California and produces a wide variety of crops, from asparagus to wine grapes.
Alcohol-involved crashes and drunk driving have long been issues in the county. Prior to 2008, repeat DUI offenders were placed on probation with little follow-up or accountability for completing the requirements of their probation. As a result, San Joaquin had one of the highest rates of DUI recidivism in California.
San Joaquin launched its county-wide DUI Court—known as the San Joaquin DUI Monitoring Court or SJDMC—in 2008 with initial grant funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
All individuals convicted of a second or subsequent DUI in San Joaquin County are required to participate in the SJDMC. At any given time, the program has approximately 600 active participants, and they may only exit the program under two conditions: successful completion of all requirements or incarceration. To date, over 2,000 participants have completed the program.
The SJDMC is comprised of two distinct tracks:
All alcohol-involved SJDMC participants are placed on alcohol monitoring, and the court uses a variety of monitoring technologies to supervise its diverse participant population. Individuals in Track 1, who are generally “low-need” participants, are supervised with ignition interlock devices to ensure public safety. Portable breath testing or SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring is assigned to Track 1 participants who do not have a car to ensure they cannot circumvent the court’s universal monitoring requirement.
Track 2 participants are generally required to submit to more intensive monitoring, such as frequent remote breath testing or SCRAM CAM. The intensive monitoring supports the outcomes of other services, including treatment and support groups like AA.
Judge Richard Vlavianos has led the SJDMC since its inception. He notes that in addition to being a method of supervision, alcohol monitoring data is an important diagnostic tool for assessing participants’ needs over time. The data helps the court identify participants who are struggling or who require further assessment for alcohol dependence or addiction. Track 1 clients who test positive for alcohol consumption can be stepped-up to Track 2 so that they can receive appropriate additional services and supervision.
In general, clients pay all fees associated with their monitoring. However, the court does have some grant funding available to assist indigent clients with the costs of monitoring.
Requiring all repeat offenders to have court supervision and undergo alcohol monitoring isn’t the norm, but Judge Vlavianos thinks it should be. “Supervising only 15% or 20% of repeat DUI offenders doesn’t sufficiently improve public safety in my opinion,” he notes. “You have to supervise all of them. You wouldn’t run a drug court without testing the clients. Why should alcohol offenders be any different when it comes to monitoring? Every DUI/DWI court should be using monitoring technology.”
The SJDMC’s approach is clearly getting results. In 2012, the court was evaluated by NPC Research, an independent research firm that has conducted over 125 evaluations of drug courts around the country. NPC was tasked with determining how effective the court’s efforts were in reducing DUI recidivism and alcohol-involved crashes in the county.
NPC researchers looked at re-arrest and crash rates for program participants for 18 months following their arrest and compared the rates to those of a control group from 2006 (prior to the creation of the court) who were on traditional probation. During the 18 months following their initial arrest, the research showed SJDMC participants:
Based on the court’s success over the past 7 years, Judge Vlavianos would like to find a way to expand the model to other interested courts. “Overall we need more monitoring courts,” he says. “We don’t supervise repeat DUI offenders enough or pay enough attention to them. Those DUI cases we aren’t paying attention to usually come back as a new case and cost more money and more time down the road.”