Bullock: 24/7 Sobriety Program Holding Repeat DUI Offenders Accountable
On Monday, Attorney General Steve Bullock joined local law enforcement officers, legislators and others at the Flathead County Courthouse to highlight the progress made in the year since the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program Act was signed into law.
Bullock and Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell – the sponsor of HB 106 – were joined by Sheriff Chuck Curry and Tawny Norton, who lost her husband, Trooper Mike Haynes, to a drunk driver who hit his Patrol car head-on on U.S. Highway 93 near Kalispell in March 2009.
Bullock started the program as a pilot project in Lewis & Clark County in May 2010 and, after that proved successful, asked the 2011 Legislature to approve its use statewide.
The 24/7 program was rolled out to a limited number of counties on October 1, 2011, with more counties gradually coming on board at the discretion of local sheriffs. Under the program, repeat DUI offenders come in to a central law enforcement site and take a breath test, twice a day, every day, between 7- 9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. Offenders pay a minimal fee for each test. In rural areas, they may wear SCRAM bracelets, devices that remotely monitor alcohol consumption.
While judges have consistently required second and subsequent DUI offenders to stay sober and out of bars, prior to this program, there was no effective enforcement mechanism.
To date, the program is operating in 16 counties, and another 11 counties are trained and working with the Attorney General’s office to get the program underway in their communities. (A list of the counties participating and trained follows.)
“Today, thanks to the sheriffs who are participating in the 24/7 Sobriety Program, 16 Montana counties have dramatically changed the way they deal with repeat drunk drivers,” Bullock said. “By holding offenders accountable, we’re seeing some very encouraging results – all without costing taxpayers a dime.”
Offenders, not taxpayers, cover the cost of administering the program. Both the state and counties are poised to save significant amounts of money currently being spent on incarceration, Bullock said.
Bullock called the program’s results in the seven months since Oct. 1 last year, “truly impressive.”
- More than 56,000 breath tests have been administered.
- Of these, participants have passed 55,840, for a success rate of 99.7%.
- There were only 183 tests where participants “blew hot,” and approximately 1,446 tests that participants missed (referred to as “no shows”).
- With these “no shows,” the success rate statewide is 97.1%.
Additionally, 300 participants in the 24/7 Sobriety Program have been monitored on SCRAMx bracelets, which test for alcohol every 30 minutes. Since Oct. 1, 2011, more than 1 million readings have been taken (1,032,865), with the overwhelming majority showing no alcohol use. In fact, out of all the tests, there have been only 28 confirmed alcohol events and 97 tampering events.
“As the Sheriff of Flathead County, I believe that our participation in the 24/7 program is important,” said Curry. “Keeping impaired drivers off our roadways is and has to be one of our top priorities. This program will not only help us accomplish that goal, but it has the added advantage of reducing the number of people in the county jail.”
Offenders, not the taxpayers, cover the cost of administering the program. Both the state and counties are poised to save significant amounts of money currently being spent on incarceration.
Bullock also said the program gave offenders the opportunity to begin to change their lives. That sentiment was echoed by Harold Foster, who had participated in the program after he was arrested for DUI. Although Foster acknowledged that the program was tough, he said that it helped him stay sober and assess how drinking was affecting life.
“Repeat offenders placed in the program aren’t sitting in jail, but they aren’t sitting in the bars either,” Bullock said. “They can work, they can study, they can look after their families – but they can no longer drink and drive, and get away with it.”
The Attorney General had proposed the 24/7 Sobriety Program to the 2011 Legislature in an effort to reduce the toll drunk drivers were taking on Montana’s roads. Lavin, a Highway Patrol sergeant from Kalispell, sponsored the legislation. House Bill 106 passed with widespread bipartisan support (final reading 97-2) and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer on May 6, 2011.
Counties Participating in 24/7 Sobriety Program (16): Anaconda-Deer Lodge; Beaverhead; Big Horn; Blaine; Broadwater; Butte-Silver Bow; Custer; Flathead; Gallatin; Lewis & Clark; Lincoln; Powell; Sanders; Sheridan; Sweet Grass; Yellowstone
Counties Trained but not yet participating (11): Cascade; Dawson; Fergus; Hill; Judith Basin; Madison; McCone; Mineral; Musselshell; Phillips; Rosebud