The Impaired Driving Critical Emphasis Area (CEA) team was faced with a challenge: how to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders in Nevada. Many DUI citations are plea-bargained down from a DUI and each court in Nevada has its own approach towards sentencing and monitoring. A statewide strategy seemed impossible.
Early this year, former Impaired Driving Coordinator, John Johansen, noted that South Dakota reported two-thirds of its prison population are there as a result of alcohol and/or drug convictions. A task force was formed to find a way to keep them sober and out of prison. The result was the 24/7 Sobriety Program, which requires participants to pass an alcohol breath test every 12 hours. Simply put, pass and return to work, fail and spend 12 hours in jail. Since its inception, 36,000 people have completed the program, with a pass rate of 99.2%. As a result, South Dakota has shifted from one of the worst states for repeat DUIs to one of the best. Recognizing South Dakota’s success, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Washington have started their own 24/7 programs.
Intrigued by South Dakota’s success, Nevada’s Impaired Driving CEA team reached out to Bill Mickelson, who has been involved with South Dakota’s 24/7 program since the beginning and now works with other states to get the program up and running. After the call, the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) organized a subcommittee comprised of OTS Law Enforcement Liaison Scott Swain, OTS Impaired Driving Coordinator Ben West, Judge Scott Pearson, Lieutenant Don Gil (Washoe County Sheriff’s Office), and Chief Joe Ingraham (Washoe County Alternative Sentencing) who traveled to Rapid City, South Dakota in June 2015 to observe the 24/7 program. The group was impressed. Scott Swain said, “It was phenomenal that the 500 people in the program went through the morning session with no one spending more than two minutes being tested and 100% passed.” The team also observed that testing takes place in an old warehouse facility with a separate entrance and exit that expedites the process.
What’s Next for Nevada?
A pilot program is under development for Washoe County and some challenges are being addressed, such as selecting software to run the 24/7 program and a facility to expedite the process for program participants. The subcommittee is planning to attend the first ever National 24/7 Sobriety Program Summit in Montana, September 13-15, 2015. Representing Nevada will be Washoe County Sheriff Chuck Allen, Judge Scott Pearson, Scott Swain, and OTS Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Bruce Nelson. The group is optimistic that the summit will help answer questions and provide guidance for initiating a 24/7 program in Nevada.