Changes come to 24/7 Sobriety Program

2013-07-30T23:45:00Z Changes come to 24/7 Sobriety ProgramBy JENNY MICHAEL | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

(Editor's note: This is the last in a four-part series, "Alcohol in Our Culture." Today's stories look at programs targeting drunken driving and alcohol abuse.)

North Dakota officials have begun implementing changes to a sobriety program as part of recently enacted drunken driving legislation.

The North Dakota Legislature passed House Bill 1302 during the 2013 legislative session, which made major changes to the state's DUI laws. The changes went into effect on July 1. Among the changes are numerous new uses for the 24/7 Sobriety Program.

The 24/7 Sobriety Program originated in South Dakota and began in North Dakota in 2008. Judges can require people to undergo breath tests for alcohol twice a day as a condition of bond in DUI cases, as well as other alcohol-related crimes, to make sure they stay sober.

House Bill 1302 mandates the program as a part of probation for offenders on second and subsequent convictions for DUI and for juveniles adjudicated in alcohol-related driving offenses. It also allows some temporary driver's licenses for people on the program.

County sheriff's departments have administered the program. While many law enforcement officers have been pleased with the results of 24/7, some sheriffs were concerned about the demands and logistics of carrying out the expanded program.

Burleigh County has 25 to 30 people coming in twice a day for breath tests and an additional 17 or so using "SCRAM" bracelets, devices that detect alcohol through the skin, Cami Krueger, 24/7 coordinator for the department, said. The program expansion likely will mean larger workloads for agencies.

Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert also is concerned about where people will wait for their tests. By July 16, several people already had been sentenced to the program as part of probation. The area in the department where the tests are conducted now can't hold many more people.

"I just don't have a safe place for people to come and go," he said.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said a new jail planned for Burleigh and Morton counties should clear up space concerns, though the jail is not a certainty yet and is several years away from being built. He also suggested counties concerned about manpower for the program use a $1-per-test fee to hire temporary workers or college students to help administer the program. However, Heinert said officers have to make arrests when someone fails a test.

"We'll work through the logistical issues," Stenehjem said.

Heinert plans to talk to the district court about other ways to run the program.

"I'm going to continue to work on it," he said.

The original 24/7 program has been effective in getting people to stay sober pending the resolution of their DUI cases. Heinert said 99 percent of tests were negative last year and 78 percent of people on the program in Burleigh County finished it successfully, meaning they didn't miss tests or use alcohol.

"The program is fantastic," Heinert said. "Hundreds of them thanked us when they were done."

Stenehjem said a study of the South Dakota program showed a decrease in repeat DUIs after 24/7 was put in place. A similar study of North Dakota statistics is planned.

"The indication is that the certainty of arrest and the certainty of the consequences has a direct positive impact on behavior," Stenehjem said.

Dave Krabbenhoft, director of administration for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said it's hard to determine how many people could end up on the program through probation, because it is difficult to gauge whether it will have a deterrent effect.

Probation officers already use SCRAM bracelets, and the 24/7 Sobriety Program should be another tool to help people regain sobriety, Krabbenhoft said.

"The law is well intentioned. I'm one of those people on the side hoping this has a really strong deterrent effect," he said.

Stenehjem also anticipates people who have lost their licenses because of a DUI conviction will be glad to participate in 24/7 in order to obtain a temporary driver's license.

Cory Pedersen, director of juvenile court for the South Central and Southwest Judicial Districts, said juvenile adjudications for DUI are rare, though it is not as uncommon for teens to get arrested for minor in consumption while driving, which requires having at least a 0.02 blood-alcohol concentration, compared to a 0.08 BAC for a DUI.

Some of the biggest issues for juveniles on the program will include getting them to sheriff's departments twice per day without missing school and making sure they have the necessary identification to participate, Pedersen said.

Reach Jenny Michael at 701-250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.

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