Evaluation of the Sydney drink-driver rehabilitation program

Criminology Research Council grant ; (26/75)

The study evaluated the pilot phase of the Sydney Drink-Driver Rehabilitation Program which commenced in 1976. Drink-drive offenders (a) with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.15 or above or (b) with at least one prior drink-drive conviction, were given the option in the four 'pilot' courts to attend an eight-week rehabilitation course prior to final sentencing.

The entrants had a higher drink-drive reconviction rate than control groups in a two-year follow-up period. Data analysis indicated that this was due to the 'high-risk' nature of the entrants compared with the control groups, rather than the failure of the program. Also, given the voluntary nature of the scheme, there were probably subjective factors at work which had the effect of selecting the 'worse risk' offenders for the program. And to the extent that entrants saw the scheme primarily as a means of getting a lighter sentence, this would have been contrary to the sort of attitude required for effective treatment. Data on 'time to first drink-drive reconviction' showed that reconvictions among the entrants were postponed the longest of all the groups, providing the strongest evidence that the scheme did have an effective deterrent impact on the entrants.

The conclusion is sceptical: the study established neither the failure, nor the success of the program. Among the research implications were the need to join the treatment program and the evaluation process together, so as to investigate the overriding issue of 'what kind of treatment is most suited to what kind of person under which particular circumstances'; and the need to go beyond recorded convictions, and attempt to investigate other possible effects of the program which could provide a basis for assessment, such as changes in attitudes or practices related to drink-driving.

In policy terms the study found that the question of the program's future may have to be resolved on the basis of which side bears the onus of proof. But the scheme has provided a facility within the criminal justice system to help deal with the drink-driving problem, and continued efforts to attack the problem will require experimenting with combinations of all the available counter-measures.