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Successful dry run

Pilot | Encouraging results mean 24/7 Sobriety Program could go statewide
2010-12-05T00:00:00Z Successful dry runBy ANGELA BRANDT Independent Record Helena Independent Record
December 05, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A pilot program to hold repeat drunk driving offenders more accountable has received outstanding results, according to law enforcement officials.

The 24/7 Sobriety Program boasts a 99.9 percent success rate in Lewis and Clark County. The pilot program began in May, and since then about 5,000 breath tests have been conducted with just 22 of those failing. A total of 26 people have completed the program so far.

In the program, those arrested for a second or subsequent DUI who post bond are required to submit a breath test twice a day, every day, once in the morning and once at night. If an offender fails a breath test or does not show up for a test, the offender’s bond is immediately revoked and he or she is taken directly to jail. A judge then can decide how long the person must remain behind bars and also raise the bond amount.

“The nice thing about this and why we set up the pilot is that it is a low-cost solution to an issue in all of our communities,” Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock said.

Bullock said his staff is working on legislation to implement the program statewide after seeing the success it has had in Lewis and Clark County. The program involves state, county and city agencies working together.

Mike Menahan, a Helena state legislator and Lewis and Clark County deputy attorney, said he strongly supports of the program.

“We’re demonstrating that we have the infrastructure to make this work in Montana,” he said. “We wanted to try this here to demonstrate it would work here and I think we’ve done that.”

The program currently has 28 participants. Testing is performed at the jail and the Helena Prerelease Center.

Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said two of the main goals of the program — to reduce the population of inmates and the number of drunk drivers on the road — are being met.

“It is designed to change behaviors. It impacts them twice a day,” Dutton said.

With the program, participants are able to keep their job and stay in the community.

Dutton said the program also is a winner because it saves taxpayer money. Those who are tested ultimately pay for the program with a $2 charge each test. The alternative would be about $100 a day of taxpayer dollars to house the participants in jail, he said. An accounting technician with the Sheriff’s Office oversees the program. Part of her salary is paid through the $2 test fees, Dutton said.

William Greene, one of the 24/7 Program participants, is admittedly indifferent to the program.

“It’s the law — you can’t argue with it,” he said while waiting to get tested Wednesday night.

Greene, 59, was arrested for his seventh DUI in August and is awaiting a March trial for felony DUI.

In order to make it to the jail twice a day for testing, Greene has moved from the Helena Valley into the city limits. DUI offenders have their licenses taken away so it is sometimes difficult to find rides twice a day.

“It’s hard for people who live out of town,” he said.

Those who live in outlying areas like Lincoln and Augusta can use an alcohol-monitoring bracelet in place of the two-a-day breath testing. Those using the bracelets pay $6 per day for the program. There are currently nine people utilizing this option.

While $4 per day doesn’t seem like much, when you look at it as $120 a month, it adds up quickly, Greene said. But, in the long run, it’s worth it.

“As long as the money goes to a good cause, it is working,” he said.

Helena Municipal Court Judge Bob Wood admitted he was a bit skeptical of the program when it was first introduced because he was afraid it might infringe on due process rights. He has since become a fan.

Wood said every case is different, so the level of inconvenience varies. If someone fails the test, Wood can raise the bond.

“The more you fail, the harder we’re going to make it on you or the harder you’re making this on yourself,” he said.

Wood said in his experience thus far, most participants who fail the breath test only do so once.

Helena Police Chief Troy McGee said while he thinks 24/7 Sobriety is beneficial, it is too early to tell if the program has impacted the number of DUIs.

“One thing it has really brought to attention is the people who just can’t quit drinking,” he said.

McGee said the agencies involved in the program meet periodically to discuss its progress. There has been no time limit set in the pilot program.

The 24/7 concept began in South Dakota as a pilot in 2005. Since then, it has gone statewide there and has administered more than 2.9 million tests to nearly 12,000 offenders. Participants in South Dakota have shown up and blown a clean test 99.6 percent of the time.

Earlier this year, officials, including Lewis and Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, traveled to South Dakota to see the program in action.

“We needed to try something different,” Gallagher said, adding that offenders needed an immediate consequence.

He said he was impressed with the program and especially with the results.

“This is the first time multiple DUI offenders are being monitored this closely,” Gallagher said.

Previously, those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor DUI are not supposed to drink, but until now, there was no way for judges to know if this was happening unless the person got caught committing another crime.

Although judges frequently require repeat DUI offenders to abstain drinking alcohol as a condition of bond, there was nothing in place to ensure compliance.

Felony DUI offenders have probation officers, but those convicted of their first, second and third DUIs are not subject to probation, he said.

Deputy Helena City Attorney Luke Berger said that because it’s a fledgling program here, the results have not had as much of an impact as those in South Dakota, where thousands of people participate.

“I think it’s a great program. Once it gets going, I think we will see the same numbers as in South Dakota,” he said. “I think a year from now, we’ll have great success. We’re still working with it and I think it’s doing great so far and I would like to see it continue.”

Reporter Angela Brandt:

447-4078 or angela.

brandt@helenair.com

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Vince
    Report Abuse
    Vince - December 10, 2010 11:57 am
    Bigjon, did you count the cars at the restaruant/bars, grill/bars, casino/bars, etc. They all serve liquour. Meanwhile the gas stations and stores all sell beer, wine. Who drives home from all of these places?
  2. bigjon
    Report Abuse
    bigjon - December 07, 2010 11:56 am
    " 26 people completed the program? There are more cars than that parked outside most bars in town at any given time. And that doesn't include the food establishments that serve beer and wine with meals or that have a sports bar included on their premises. Who drives the family car home from these places, the kids? "

    Just for the heck of it, why don't you check to see the cars
    and people number when you count employees. When DUI started
    putting people in jail about 86 or 87 I stopped by several business and counted the cars. Then went inside and counted the employees. At one place, there were 15 cars outside and
    it was cold. Checked and counted 13 (had to make sure that;
    yep there was one that was outside smoking) and then the 2 customers, yep that made the total car count. So be sure you
    know what the heck you say as someone may believe it.
  3. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - December 06, 2010 10:58 am
    The headline said, "Successful dry run". Was that bad pun intentional?

    A pun is the lowest form of wit (unless I think of it first).
  4. Curmudgeon
    Report Abuse
    Curmudgeon - December 06, 2010 10:45 am
    A youngster I was sponsoring in AA asked, "How do you just not drink?"

    I said, "Simple - I don't put alcohol in my mouth."

    When he demurred, I replied, "I said it was simple. I never said it was easy."

    Of course there's a lot more to it than that. But I think Chief McGee has got a good start point for those people who just can't not drink.

    They also need to consult their doctors about appropriate therapy, and they also need AA.

    I remember hearing about a woman complaining that her husband constantly drank up his paycheck, and had wrecked the family car for the fifth time. Somebody suggested that he should try AA. She said,

    "Oh, he's not THAT bad!"

    Some days you jusst have to shake your head.
  5. remybon
    Report Abuse
    remybon - December 06, 2010 9:44 am
    yeah mammoth, sounds like out of the 26 that completed the program and others that are currently in it, about 22 have failed a test. they said most people only fail one test, then they probably have to spend a few days in jail or pay some higher fines and they learn to just not drink while in the program.
  6. mammoth
    Report Abuse
    mammoth - December 05, 2010 5:42 pm
    Really liked the story but question about statistics quoted. 24 failed test out of 5000 tests but only 28 participated. Did the same person fail 24 times, several fail multiple times?
  7. 1oldWAC
    Report Abuse
    1oldWAC - December 05, 2010 1:03 pm
    So maybe Legislaters should change the law so a repeat drunk drivers can STAY in PRISON AND pay the State for it.
    This breathalyzer is a bandaid fix for a long term proble. Too bad you can't just execute a 3rd or 4th time offender BEFORE they kill someone on the road.
    There is a jurisdiction in New York I believe that the DUI along with an accident a death becomes asault with a deadly weapon-murder in no uncertain terms
    The Montana LEGISLATURE probably has too mnay drinkers to pass something to keep drunks off the road. There is at least a bunch of drunken legislators and one drunken Congresman...
  8. Vince
    Report Abuse
    Vince - December 05, 2010 12:09 pm
    Hmmm, 7th DUI, and this person is still walking around in our community. Kinda like the guy who ran into a house not so long ago. You do remember him, don't you? The same guy who killed a 15 year old girl in a drunk driving incident in 1995? What is the length of time a person has to stay 'sober', in other words, how long does a person have to take the test and stay clean? One week? One month? One year? 10 years? Why would there even be a "a second or subsequent DUI" considered? 26 people completed the program? There are more cars than that parked outside most bars in town at any given time. And that doesn't include the food establishments that serve beer and wine with meals or that have a sports bar included on their premises. Who drives the family car home from these places, the kids?

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