The Role of Prosecutors in DWI Courts: Enhancing Road Safety and Reducing Recidivism

By: National Traffic Law Center Staff

As prosecutors, we play a crucial role in the criminal justice system, not only in upholding justice but also in shaping effective strategies to reduce recidivism. One such strategy involves recommending sentences that promote rehabilitation rather than punishment alone, especially in cases of Driving While Impaired (DWI). An emerging solution lies in DWI courts, which have shown a promising impact on reducing DWI recidivism and improving road safety. [i] [ii]

DWI courts operate as specialized dockets within the broader framework of drug court programs. These courts are uniquely designed to address alcohol-impaired driving offenses, with an underlying goal of changing behavior. This change is facilitated by identifying and treating alcohol abuse problems, and by holding offenders accountable for their actions. [iii]

These courts are part of a broader trend toward acknowledging addiction as a chronic disease that requires treatment. They are part of the more than 4,000 drug treatment courts established across the U.S., following the pioneering model that opened in Miami, Florida in 1989. This approach acknowledges the root of the problem — addiction — and aims to treat it, reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Research from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has shown that participants in drug court programs are significantly less likely to commit crimes or use drugs in the future. [i] This evidence underscores the potential of DWI courts to facilitate lasting behavior change and improve road safety by addressing the root causes of impaired driving.

NDAA’s National Traffic Law Center (NTLC) plays a critical role in supporting prosecutors and other stakeholders in keeping our nation’s roads safe. The NTLC is a vital resource for prosecutors, providing training and reference services for traffic law cases, including DWI court information. By utilizing these resources, we can help keep our roads safer by effectively addressing impaired driving.

In addition to the NTLC, prosecutors have access to critical resources and support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) for the implementation and enhancement of drug court programs, including DWI courts, through financial and technical assistance. In fact, between fiscal years 2016 and 2021, BJA awarded over $254 million across 507 grants for this purpose. By leveraging these resources, prosecutors can contribute significantly to the success of DWI courts, ensuring a more comprehensive approach to addressing impaired driving and promoting public safety.

DWI courts represent a promising approach in the fight against impaired driving, providing a path toward rehabilitation and reduced recidivism. As prosecutors, our role extends beyond conviction; we have a responsibility to ensure that the justice system not only punishes but also rehabilitates, thereby ensuring safer roads and healthier communities.

[i] See Recidivism | National Institute of Justice (ojp.gov)

[ii]DWI Courts — Responsibility.org

[iii] 3.1 DWI Courts | NHTSA

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National District Attorneys Association

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.