Charges of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) by repeat offenders are increasing in Tennessee, despite new laws and educational efforts to reduce recidivism, according to a new report.
Two laws that went into effect in July intensified the punishment for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The DUI Recidivism Reduction Act mandates jail or prison time for second- and third-time DUI offenders in Tennessee. And Amelia's Law, named for Maryville, Tennessee, car accident victim Amelia Keown, permits an offender to be monitored with a "transdermal monitoring device" if it's determined that alcohol or drugs was a contributing factor to past unlawful conduct.
In January 2011, all DUI schools across the state began using a curriculum mandated by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) to lessen DUI recidivism. The Kentucky-based alcohol and drug prevention, intervention, and pre-treatment program "Prime For Life" was selected as the standardized curriculum for the DUI schools to utilize.
However, "Tennessee's DUI Problem: Increasing Recidivism," a new report by psychologist and veteran researcher Greg Little, provides data that asserts the decision to implement the curriculum hasn't been successful in curbing DUIs.
"[DUIs] have come on up to a level that's actually pretty astounding," Little said. "It just makes no sense."
Little's report claims DUI arrests, following Prime For Life's implementation, have increased statewide. In 2011, according to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) data, DUI arrests increased nearly 12 percent to 26,197 from its 2010 total of 23,460. And in 2012, there were 28,931 DUI arrests — a 23 percent increase since 2010.
According to the state's Division of Substance Abuse Services, the Prime For Life curriculum is intended to minimize the occurrences of drug- and alcohol-related incidents in Tennessee. It utilizes brain chemistry and addiction research to decrease dependency.
The curriculum identifies two phases of drinking: low-risk and high-risk. A person who consumes two or three drinks in a day is defined as a low-risk drinker. Individuals categorized as high-risk consume more than three drinks a day.
Kenny Baker is program director for Behavioral Treatment Providers, which specializes in providing treatment and intervention to various offenders including those arrested for DUIs. Baker said he opposed the decision to make Prime For Life the state's mandatory DUI school curriculum.
"Our approach has always been 'if you choose to drink, don't get behind the wheel of a car and drive,'" Baker said. "With the standardized curriculum, I don't think DUI offenders care about low-risk versus high-risk drinking and what it does. I don't think it's useful for them to run calculations in their head. But the new curriculum really focuses on that."
In 2009, a TBI report revealed that 21 percent of the people arrested for DUIs in Tennessee were repeat offenders. A year later, the decision was made to implement a standardized curriculum statewide to limit DUI recidivism. Little's report, however, states that the number of DUI repeat offenders had increased to 25 percent by mid-2012.
Little said he hopes his report motivates the state to release a recidivism study that showcases the outcomes of DUI offenders who've accessed the Prime For Life program.
"The actual overall recidivism rate for Tennessee DUI offenders hasn't been released since 2009," Little stated in the report. "And that is an essential problem. With reduced recidivism as the stated goal of a mandated statewide program, evaluating the recidivism of treated DUI offenders would seem to be the ethical and correct course of action."