Evaluation of an innovative community based drink driving rehabilitation program

Criminology Research Council grant ; (10/90)

This research project undertaken with funding from the Council and the Federal Office of Road Safety aimed to determine whether a newly designed Corrective Services Commission Drink Driving Rehabilitation Program was viable as an approach to rehabilitation and whether it could be evaluated.

Background research indicated that there were approximately 25,000 convictions for drink driving annually in Queensland and a review of RBT statistics for 1990 found that 16,507 persons had a blood alcohol content of 0.05. The overwhelming majority (94.1 per cent) of these offenders received licence suspensions which were considerably longer than the mandatory suspension levels and thus were relatively more severe than any of the fines, prison sentences and community service which were to be kept at minimal levels. Prison sentences were imposed on 238 offenders during 1989-1990 and almost twice as many again were admitted for defaulting fines or community service orders.

There are major problems in the application of a classic experimental model to evaluating drink driving rehabilitation. Numbers of occasions are small, particularly if crash involvement is used as the outcome measure. Recent literature recommends more radically that drink driving should be considered a 'symptom' rather than the 'disease' and that the use of more broadly based lifestyle outcome measures such as drinking and drink driving frequency, employment status, family stability, etc. are more appropriate.

The Queensland Corrective Services Commission Drink Driving Rehabilitation Program is the only one currently available in Queensland. It was initiated in 1989 and is a 'user pays' program which involves educational segments provided by community stakeholders. It takes six and a half months to complete and aims to improve offenders' knowledge and attitudes, and to offer an alternative to extended prison sentences for multiple offenders.

The program is clearly practical and feasible. In the three years since it was proposed fifteen centres have been established involving at least 450 participants. The achievement and acceptance level involved here should not be underestimated. Each course includes participants from seven government and non-government organisations and has achieved high acceptance from magistrates. It is conducted primarily with multiple offenders who have other serious social disadvantages. A sizeable proportion of participants are over 30 years of age, poorly educated, socially disadvantaged and have already had previous prison sentences for drink driving and other offences.

In spite of its high level of acceptance it lacks a locally designated coordinator and is not based on a knowledge-attitudinal-behaviour change model. There is no collaborative training, coordination or support given to the persons delivering it. The program also needs much closer supervision of participants and clearer guidelines as to alternative strategies to deal with the small number of participants who attend the program after heavy drinking. If these problems are not rectified it may be difficult to maintain at its present level of implementation.

Because of these weaknesses in its current form it would be very difficult to justify the expense of trying to establish a formal evaluation.