Researcher Urges Changes In Assessment Of DWI Offenders

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: April 6, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The assessment of DWI offenders needs to be modified to focus on identifying characteristics of those most likely to be repeat offenders and whether treatment addressing their alcohol and drug use is necessary, a University at Buffalo researcher recommended at the "Lifesavers 2000 National Conference on Highway Safety Priorities" held in Atlanta on March 12-14.

"We need to re-evaluate how we assess and treat DWI offenders," said Thomas H. Nochajski, Ph.D., is a principal investigator with UB's Research Institute on Addictions. "Recent research indicates that the type of assessment can impact on DWI recidivism and retention in treatment.

"There are certain characteristics that appear to have utility in identifying potential DWI recidivists," Nochajski noted.

"Those characteristics include higher levels of depression and anxiety, a high number of crashes and moving violations, a criminal history of crimes other than DWI, and a family history of alcoholism or drug problems, including having a family member arrested for a DWI. Repeat DWI offenders are also more likely than first-time DWI offenders to be diagnosed with severe dependency or multiple diagnoses for alcohol and drug addiction. Other potential identifiers include a propensity to take risks and using driving as a tension reliever."

Nochajski said assessment of DWI offenders should elicit from them the critical information necessary to determine whether treatment is necessary.

"Furthermore," he added, "the assessments should allow for individual treatment planning that can help motivate the individual to engage in the treatment process and increase the likelihood that the individual will complete the treatment program."

Nochajski recently was awarded a grant of $2.6 million from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study techniques that have proven useful with other populations, but have not been tried in the criminal-justice area.

Through the use of motivational techniques, participants will be encouraged to evaluate their individual "pros and cons" of alcohol use and to make an informed decision about their future use of alcohol. A "harm-reduction" approach also will be introduced as a means of changing the behaviors of clients who may not want or currently be able to make the move toward total abstinence, a reason many give for having dropped out of treatment in the past. A pilot study showed that these methods, used in conjunction, proved successful in getting clients to engage in the treatment process.