Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Effectiveness of DUI courts buoys hopes of success here

By Gene Park


Recidivism. It's a hard word for me to say, and it's even worse to hear in the context of repeat criminal offenders, like those who drive under the influence. 

That's why I am relieved to hear that a DUI court is in the works. So said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald on Wednesday during the 27th annual celebration of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii at Iolani Palace.

DUI courts follow the drug court model, identifying alcoholism and substance abuse as the root case of impaired driving. They offer more intensive systems of monitoring for repeat offenders, including random and frequent drug and alcohol testing.

Offenders will be sentenced to the fullest extent of the law, Recktenwald says. If the offender is successful in the treatment, the sentence can be reduced.

Drug courts and the state's probation supervision program, HOPE, have both seen successes. Positive drug tests have been reduced by 83 percent since HOPE was started by Circuit Judge Steven Alm. Recktenwald hopes Hawaii can see similar success with drunken drivers.

Spearheading the effort is District Judge William Cardwell, often referred to as the DUI judge. Through the many studies and resource materials he's read, it turns out DUI courts, not penalties and higher fines, reduce repeat offenders.

In a study of three Michigan DUI courts, offenders were up to 19 times less likely to be rearrested for a DUI than a DUI offender in a traditional court, according to the National Center for DWI Courts.

But it's all about funding, something Cardwell, the state Department of Transportation and the University of Hawaii medical school have been working on.

"The other problem is, there's no probation for first, second or third offenders in Hawaii, which makes it harder because what you're trying to do is supervise people, and again, that has to do with money, mostly," Cardwell says.

Federal funding for a pilot program may have been identified, and the kinks of that grant are being ironed out, the judge says. If the pilot is successful, the state Judiciary can then go to lawmakers for more funding.

Cardwell acknowledges, "It's tough for anybody to suggest to the Legislature that we need more money. That's a real tough sell."

But it's an idea worth exploring. Local stakeholders, including MADD Hawaii volunteers, went to Orange County, Calif., to see how the court works there.

"I feel like we're so close," says Jennifer Dotson, executive director of MADD Hawaii. "I think with Hawaii's culture and sense of ohana, it would really mesh well here in our islands."

My fingers are crossed that the ball keeps rolling until it's in the court's court.

Gene Park can be reached at or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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