We want to thank LNP for highlighting diversionary programs for offenders in Lancaster County (“Diversion court provides 2nd chance,” Feb. 17 Sunday LNP). The article illustrated the good work being done in those programs — and, we feel, how expansion statewide would result in more successful treatment for DUI offenders, thus reducing recidivism.
As Lancaster County citizens and co-founders of Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving — an organization of families who have lost children to alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers, including many repeat offenders — we believe this is a critical issue and one that needs closer attention.
While we strongly advocated for the recently enacted law that increased penalties for DUI offenders who continue to reoffend, we also believe in alternative disposition solutions such as the ones covered in the Sunday LNP article.
As we continue to learn more about the complex issues associated with impaired driving and its underlying causes, we found diversionary programs with intensive oversight and treatment for the offender’s alcohol and drug abuse/addiction are essential in our state’s effort to prevent recidivism.
Counties such as Lancaster and York should be commended for their treatment court programs. Lancaster County’s Drug Court and Veterans Court, along with York’s Target 25 DUI program, focus on high-risk offenders and use innovative tools for monitoring offenders. Outcome data from across the state shows offenders in specialty courts complete treatment more often than those not in specialty courts.
Yet, more needs to be done to reduce recidivism as we continue to read the horror stories from across Pennsylvania. Just last weekend in Delaware County, an individual with five prior DUIs was charged with causing, while impaired, a crash that killed a 45-year old woman and seriously injured her husband.
Pennsylvania must do more in its pursuit of treatment to the benefit of all involved. A good first step would be to expand the use of specialized treatment courts across the state, recording outcomes and recidivism rates for offenders who participate.
Many DUI offenders are required to obtain treatment through third-party treatment centers as part of sentencing. According to county data from 2014 to 2016 compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, only 5,295 of those 40,220 offenders completed treatment. This equates to a dismal 13-percent completion rate.
There are questions about the consistency of reporting by counties. But the fact that there is no alternative data available only raises more questions about the state’s treatment process, and should prompt an immediate assessment of existing treatment options, especially when there are specialty programs like York’s DUI treatment court, which reported a 63 percent completion rate over the past two years.
And, of course, we need more and better data to measure and address recidivism. Various departments within the state government have data that could help identify recidivism, but such an effort would require a merger of data from sources including PennDOT, Pennsylvania’s judicial system and the state Board of Probation and Parole. This merger can be done while maintaining necessary confidentiality.
Millions of dollars are spent every year on treatment in Pennsylvania, with funding coming from individuals, private insurance and Medicaid for court-mandated treatment. That sum of money for a 13 percent treatment completion rate, or a lack of data about treatment outcomes, is unacceptable.
Helping more offenders recover from substance abuse/addiction is a worthy goal, one that Pennsylvania needs to make sure is achieved with more effective treatment options. Failure to do so will only result in more tragedies.
Chris and Susan Demko, of West Lampeter Township, founded the organization Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving after their daughter Meredith was killed by a repeat DUI offender in 2014,