Palmer E.J., Hatcher R.M., McGuire J. et al.
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology: 2012, 56(4), p. 525–538.
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This study of a cognitive-behavioural course for convicted drink-drivers in England and Wales found no evidence that it reduced the reconviction rate, another disappointing finding on this widely implemented family of crime- reduction approaches.
Summary The featured study funded by the UK Home Office was the first to evaluate the Drink-Impaired Drivers programme, intended to reduce recidivism among offenders on community sentences for drink-driving. Over 14 two-hour group sessions, a combination of education and cognitive-behavioural training and counselling methods aim to increase knowledge about alcohol and driving, help offenders plan alternatives to drink-driving, and to change attitudes which tend to support or justify drink-driving.
Central and local probation records and national conviction records were collected on 144 men in England and Wales mandated on to the programme, and on another 231 drink-driving offenders also on community sentences but without being required to attend the programme, forming a control A group of people, households, organisations, communities or other units who do not participate in the intervention(s) being evaluated. Instead, they receive no intervention or none relevant to the outcomes being assessed, carry on as usual, or receive an alternative intervention (for the latter the term comparison group may be preferable). Outcome measures taken from the controls form the benchmark against which changes in the intervention group(s) are compared to determine whether the intervention had an impact and whether this is statistically significant. Comparability between control and intervention groups is essential. Normally this is best achieved by randomly allocating research participants to the different groups. Alternatives include sequentially selecting participants for one then the other group(s), or deliberately selecting similar set of participants for each group. group against whom to benchmark its impact. Typically participants were in their mid-thirties, with several previous convictions. Those who did not attend the first session or missed two sessions could retry the programme, but if they missed sessions again they were sent back to court for re-sentencing, usually to more community sanctions such as extra hours of unpaid work.
Nearly 60% of offenders assigned to the programme completed it. They were significantly older and assessed as being less likely to be reconvicted than non-completers. Over the year after the programme ended or for the control group after being sentenced, 17 of the drink-drivers (4.5%) had been reconvicted for drink-driving offences. None of these recidivists were among the 85 offenders who completed the programme. In contrast, eight of the 59 non-completers (14%) and nine of the control group (4%) had been reconvicted.
Once other factors had been taken in to account, the reconviction rate of the non-completers was significantly higher than that of both the completers and the control group. Rates for completers and the control group did not significantly differ.
Completing the Drink-Impaired Drivers programme did not significantly reduce the chance that convicted drink-drivers would be reconvicted of the same offence. Across the entire sample, the reconviction rate almost matched the national average, but was significantly higher among offenders who were mandated by the court to the programme but did not complete it than among offenders who either completed the programme or were not assigned to it.
Such interventions might be better targeted at higher risk offenders and among these address the factors associated with non-completion and recidivism and perhaps also directly target drinking as well as drink-driving. Efforts to increase the completion rate might include better preparation of offenders and using motivational interviewing techniques to enhance engagement.
Any conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited by the small numbers in each group once the mandated offenders had been split into completers and non-completers, and the rarity of reconvictions among offenders judged suitable for community sentences rather than prison.
commentary The Drink-Impaired Drivers programme is offered by several probation services in Britain and its 28-hour course and associated activities must represent a considerable investment. However, the researchers are clearly correct in their conclusion that it could not be shown to have reduced the likelihood of drink- drivers continuing to drink-drive, at least as evidenced by their chances of being re-convicted; at 6%, the reconviction rate of all the offenders assigned to the programme was actually slightly higher than of the control group not offered the programme. One way to increase the significance of the results of the study might have been to extend the follow-up period from one year to two, as one year may not have been long enough to accumulate enough recidivism for the results to be statistically significant. It is also not stated how participants were selected, and whether they were representative of all programme starters.
The authors suggest that results might be improved by targeting the intervention at the more serious drink-drivers, who would be more likely to re- offend, but the report offers no evidence that the more serious drink-drivers responded better to the programme. The suggestion that increasing the number of people who complete the programme would help increase the chance of it working should also be treated with caution. Increasing the incentives to complete the course might encourage people to complete it for the sake of the incentives or to avoid punishments, but without being motivated to avoid drink-driving or making changes in their lives to improve their ability to do so.
This programme is part of a large family of similar interventions, on which the Driving Standards Agency have produced guidance. Of possible importance is their note that the Drink-Impaired Drivers programme assessed in this study, unlike government-approved courses, does not qualify those completing in England and Scotland for a reduction in their driving disqualification period. If completion is important to effectiveness, this incentive is lacking, though there remains the more negative incentive of avoiding a return to court for possibly more punitive re-sentencing.
It is especially important that this study has not shown the Drink-Impaired Drivers programme is effective, given that it features on the HM Prison Service’s list of accredited offender behaviour programmes said to be evidence-based and congruent with ‘what works’ research.The National Offender Management Service is considering options Source: personal communication from Sarah Ascroft of the Ministry of Justice (NOMS), 26 March 2014. for the Drink-Impaired Drivers programme, which includes reviewing current evidence and research to look at the feasibility of also targeting offenders convicted of drug-driving. Dependent on the outcome of this, a pilot programme and a new evaluation study will be designed. The National Offender Management Service have argued Source: personal communication from Sarah Ascroft of the Ministry of Justice (NOMS), 3 March 2014. that this study has a number of flaws, which make it difficult to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the programme, suggesting that even if the programme was effective, the study may not have discovered this. However, the study was Home Office funded, which suggests that at least that department were happy with the research methods.
Another assessment that examined several programmes aimed at reducing reoffending, including Drink-Impaired Drivers, carried out on behalf of the National Probation Service, attempted to compare the actual reconviction rates for people assigned to the programme with their predicted rates. It found that the actual reconviction rate, 28%, was 4% lower than the predicted 32%. However, without a control group of similar offenders not offered the programme to compare to, we cannot know whether this reduction was due to the effectiveness of the programme or simply that the predicted rates were too high. There is also evidence that either the predicted rate is too high or that something other than the programmes being measured had an effect, as even offenders not sentenced to any of the programmes were on the whole reconvicted less than predicted. The study authors also acknowledge that the predicted rate could be misleading if there are differences between offenders sentenced to different community sentences.
Other major studies that examined psychosocial programmes aimed at reducing repeat offending – not just for drink-driving, but for crime related to substance use in general – in both prisons and in the community have found limited evidence of effectiveness, underlining the difficulty of demonstrating positive results in this area.
If these interventions have not been proved effective, what can be done instead? One US programme that does appear to have achieved impressive results at reducing repeat drink-driving used a very different approach, focussing on drinking rather than drink-driving, and requiring people to test free of alcohol twice daily, with immediate 24-hour imprisonment for failed tests. Another study in Canada did hint that brief interventions featuring 30 minutes of motivational interviewing might be able to combat drink-driving among repeat offenders, although the results were far from conclusive.
A potential source of bias in this study was that the follow-up period differed for the control group and the group assigned to the intervention. For the control group, the researchers measured whether they had been reconvicted in a one-year period starting from their original sentencing. For people on the programme, it was a one-year period starting from the final session of the course. This means that those who completed the course were being assessed at least 14 weeks after their initial sentence, and more if there was a delay between sentencing and the start of the programme. This may have given them more time to respond to the initial sentence and make changes to avoid drink-driving in future, or it may have given longer for the initial shock effect of being convicted to wear off. Either way, it means that they were not comparing like with like.
Thanks for their comments on this entry in draft to Russell Webster, independent consultant on substance misuse and crime, UK and Sarah Ashcroft, Head of Interventions Services, Ministry of Justice, UK. Commentators bear no responsibility for the text including the interpretations and any remaining errors.
Last revised 31 March 2014. First uploaded 13 January 2014
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