A pilot project utilizing a new tool called “alcohol biomarkers” that has helped the county more effectively address repeat OWI offenders and protect the public will be expanded, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced today.
The news accompanied a briefing on a year-one status report for the biomarkers project. Dane County is one of only two counties in the state of Wisconsin to use this innovative approach. The report showed that use of the new biomarkers testing on convicted OWI offenders enrolled in a Driver Safety Plan enabled program assessors to make more accurate evaluations of the individuals, and better recommendations for their treatment.
“The use of biomarkers has enabled the county to prevent OWI offenders from getting back behind the wheel before they have fully recovered, keeping our streets safer,” said Parisi. “This innovative approach also helps offenders in the program find a meaningful path to recovery, reducing the economic and human costs for everyone involved.”
Despite historic budget challenges, and due to the program’s early success, the County Executive continued funding for the pilot in his 2012 budget. This investment will help increase the number of participants from 100 individuals, to as many as 300 individuals in the year ahead.
Dr. Pamela Bean, Director of the biomarkers pilot outlined key findings of the report. Dr. Bean said one finding pointed to the ability to use biomarkers to zero in on offenders labeled “extreme high-risk drivers,” or the most likely to remain addicted to alcohol and reoffend.
Biomarker testing can detect an offender’s use of alcohol while in their Driver Safety Plan weeks after they ingest it, instead of only days. This more sophisticated method prevents offenders from being able to trick the system, leading to more honest results.
The report showed that almost one third of high-risk drivers in the pilot program experienced a relapse during the one-year monitoring period. Dr. Bean added that more than half of those who relapsed, relapsed frequently. Armed with this information, assessors were better able to work with high-risk drivers, keeping them off the road, keeping them from reoffending, and helping them recover through more intense treatment and more frequent monitoring.
This use of individualized treatment allows staff to communicate closely with the repeat offender, motivating them to change their drinking behaviors and keep them engaged for longer in meaningful treatment.
At the briefing, Sheriff Dave Mahoney also outlined steps the department will take this weekend during the New Year’s holiday to address drunk driving. On December 29th, 30th and 31st the Sheriff’s office will have extra patrols throughout the county to aid in catching offenders and keeping the public safe.
“If you chose to drive drunk, not only do you risk getting an expensive ticket, you risk your life and the lives of others on the road,” said Sheriff Mahoney. “We will be vigilant this weekend. There are many safe ride options available on holidays like New Years Eve, and residents and visitors should take advantage of them.”
In the last two months, deputies working overtime deployments such as the ones occurring this weekend have issued around 180 citations, 10 of which were for Operating While Intoxicated.
“The county is prepared to address drunk driving with a balanced approach,” said Parisi. “We are focused not only on addressing the root causes of alcohol abuse to prevent future offenses, but have taken steps to increase the resources necessary to keep the public safe this weekend.”
# # #