Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) are one of the fastest growing specialty court types in the U.S.; there are now more than 551 VTCs nationwide. Recent legislation will fund support staff at these alternative courts to assist veterans on their road to recovery.
Veterans Treatment Courts Increase Assistance
This fall, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018 was signed into law, increasing services for veterans impacted by the justice system.
This act enhances the ability of Treatment courts to serve veterans; the VA will be required to place 50 additional Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists at VA Medical Centers. These specialists will serve as part of a team in a VTC. VJO Specialists currently serve in 551 Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) and other Veteran focused court programs across the U.S.
Veterans Treatment Courts and VJO specialists serve veterans who are or will soon be, part of the criminal justice system. The goal is to reduce recidivism among veterans by connecting participants to treatment services such as alcohol and drug counseling, rather than serving jail time. VJOs work directly with the courts to create treatment plans to address the reasons behind the criminal behavior of veteran offenders, many of whom are living with substance abuse problems.
Alcohol Abuse and Criminal Consequences On the Rise for U.S. Veterans
The VJO Specialist and court-ordered treatment programs address underlying issues like alcohol abuse and drug abuse, problems on the rise in the veteran population:
- 1.8 million veterans struggle with addiction
- 52.7% increase in veterans being treated for substance abuse from 1995 to 2013
- 81% of all justice-involved veterans had a substance abuse problem before going to jail
Alcohol abuse and related criminal activity is a growing problem for some veterans. There has been a significant increase in binge drinking in male veterans, with two times the increase for female veterans. Drinking more is connected to more drinking and driving and the veteran population has seen an increase in drunk driving of almost 60% since 2014. “There’s no denying that American veterans contribute to the nationwide epidemic of drunk driving,” a study by the American Addiction Centers concludes.
Veteran Treatment Courts are continuing to open across the nation; criminal justice reform legislation is ushering in options outside of standard sentencing and incarceration. Soon, alternative courts with increased funding and enhanced support services for veterans may become the norm.
In the spirit of the new year ahead, we have decided to look back at some of the 2018 trends surrounding drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice.
Problem Drinking & Driving
It’s no secret that impaired driving is a widespread issue, but drinking and driving in certain age groups has its own set of dangers. For example, underage drivers are responsible for 17% of fatal alcohol-involved crashes and over one-third of fatal traffic crashes among young adults aged 16–20 involve alcohol. With drivers under the age of 21 representing 10% of licensed drivers in the U.S., these statistics are quite sobering.
The risks of drunk driving aren’t only more pronounced in teenage drivers, but also senior citizens. Older people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, and adults aged 65 and older tend to binge drink more often than other age groups. With even one drink being enough to impair driving skills in older people, the dangers of drinking and driving extend to the 40 million licensed drivers over the age of 64.
Promising Policies and Legislation
As the impacts of alcohol-involved fatalities and drunk driving become more prevalent, new legislation and policies are being put in place to help combat this issue.
For example, with the growing problem of college binge drinking and subsequent deaths, the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), representing over 6,100 chapters across 800 college campuses, has banned hard alcohol at all fraternity houses and events. Even students 21 and older will not be exempt from the new policy unless the alcohol is being controlled and served by a licensed third-party vendor.
On a larger legislative scale, Utah is the first state in the nation to lower the legal driving BAC from .08 to .05. With several other states considering the .05 legislation, researchers estimate that if every state were to adopt the lower BAC limit, it could potentially save 1,790 lives a year that would otherwise be lost to drunk driving incidents.
Alcohol Monitoring Programs Seeing Success, Gaining Traction
New laws and policies aren’t the only way jurisdictions across the country are addressing the issue of drunk driving. To help reduce DUIs, a number of jurisdictions are implementing alcohol monitoring programs that use a variety of technologies to supervise drunk driving offenders.
Earlier this year, the Honorable Judge John S. Kennedy retired after serving 22 years on the bench and building a highly successful alcohol monitoring program in York County, Pennsylvania. The Target 25 Program targets repeat drunk driving offenders, requiring pretrial supervision using alcohol monitoring. Not only is the program seeing continued success since its inception in 2012, but also helped reduce the number of same-year repeat DUI offenders by 90%.
Alcohol monitoring pilot programs are also gaining traction across the pond. Between 2006 and 2016, an estimated 9,050 people in Great Britain were killed or injured as a result of alcohol-involved crashes. But pilot programs using “sobriety tags” or continuous alcohol monitoring bracelets, are emerging across the country as areas around the UK are recognizing the impact of drunk driving. One such program in Northwest England saw a 92% sobriety rate in people wearing the tag and continues to gain traction as more areas consider their own alcohol monitoring programs.
What other trends in drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice have you noticed this past year?
The Prevention Research Center at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) has released a new study focused on a less researched aspect of drinking and driving behavior—the location where the drinking event took place before drinkers get behind the wheel and drive.
Where Have We Been When We Drink and Drive?
The study sought to uncover how different drinking contexts relate to the risk of alcohol-impaired driving and driving after drinking. A sampling of 8,553 adults across California revealed people drink most frequently in their own homes, followed by a friend’s or relative’s house. The classic “drinking in a bar” fell to the bottom of the list of frequent drinking locations.
Of the adults surveyed, more than half reported drinking at some time in the past year, with the majority of those drinking occasions taking place at home. Imbibing at home was associated with more frequent drinking, while consuming alcohol in other venues, such as bars and restaurants, was less frequent but more likely to lead to getting behind the wheel after drinking.
The study reaffirms that drinking outside the home correlates to higher rates of drinking and driving. However, the research also reveals that a substantial source of impaired drivers may be those frequent drinkers who only infrequently drive after drinking.
More Drinking = More Drinking and Driving
The research reveals new findings on the “place of last drink,” showing that greater drinking frequencies, regardless of place, are always related to greater rates of drunk driving, whether the drinking event is in one’s own home, at other’s homes, or at house parties.
Researchers have upheld the common knowledge that drinking at bars often leads to alcohol-impaired and drunk driving while noting that the study’s findings coincide with other studies on place-of-last-drink. These earlier findings show that alcohol-impaired driving events may also be widely distributed across residential areas. Study findings indicate approximately half the number of persons arrested for drunken driving were drinking in a private residence before their arrest.
Preloading and Prevention
There is a need for more detailed research on drinking location and how it relates to drinking and driving, and to what extent “preloading” at home may continue into a drinking event outside of the home. As recent research has shown and recent news stories have highlighted, further study may aid in prevention efforts.
The results of this latest study suggest that new programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving should start with focused, community-based prevention programs. Where drinking takes place is fixed for most drinkers—drinkers drink where they feel welcome and comfortable. We may see a significant reduction in alcohol-impaired driving if anti-drunk driving programs include the risks of driving after drinking at home in their messaging.
Utah will soon be the strictest state in the nation when it comes to DUI law. On December 30, 2018, the legal driving blood alcohol limit will be lowered from .08 to .05, making Utah the first state in the U.S. to officially put the law in place.
Will Stricter Standards Reduce Drunk Driving?
A few of the driving forces behind the legislative decision include support from the National Transportation Safety Board and National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as academic research on the benefits of decreasing legal BAC limits.
One study, conducted by the University of Chicago and Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, found that alcohol-related driving fatalities were reduced by 10% between 1982 and 2014 after the U.S. had dropped the legal BAC from .10 to .08.
Additionally, the researchers found that lowering the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05 could reduce fatal alcohol-related crashes by 11%. Researchers estimate that if every state were to adopt the .05 limit, it could potentially save 1,790 lives a year.
Several other states have also considered the .05 legislation over the last few years, including New York, Delaware, Hawaii, and Washington. In Texas, which consistently sees the nation’s largest number of drunk driving deaths each year, a recent poll showed that 60% of people support lowering the legal BAC for operating a vehicle.
Legislation Met with Resistance
But Utah’s legislators, convinced that lowering the legal driving blood alcohol level will reduce drunk driving fatalities, have been the only state representatives to pass the law. And in response to concerns from the hospitality and travel industries, they allowed for more than a year and a half for preparation and training before the law goes into effect.
While there are many supporters of lowering the BAC threshold, there is also strong opposition for the .05 legislation, mainly by the American Beverage Institute (ABI) and restaurants and bars in the state. Local businesses argue they will take a financial hit as they expect a decrease in alcohol sales, but opponents also believe that the law is targeting responsible drinkers—those that choose to drink in moderation could soon face the consequences of a DUI.
ABI’s Communications Director, Jackson Shedelbower, says that states should be focusing on repeat offenders and heavy drinkers, as the majority of alcohol-related fatalities involve drivers with high BAC levels.
But that position ignores the fact that in 2017 nearly 1,900 people died in traffic crashes where a driver had a BAC between .01 and .07. Critics also point out that the new law doesn’t target all drinkers—only drinkers who choose to get behind the wheel after driving.
Tara Gill, State Programs Director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, believes that the new law will have a deterrent effect on the Utah population.
“Lowering the BAC to .05 does not necessarily result in more arrests. It’s a behavioral change,” she said. “Somebody who may have had three drinks may now only have two. Some people will choose not to drive after drinking.”
Do you think the new law will help reduce drunk driving fatalities in Utah?
In 2017, 10,874 people lost their lives in drunk driving crashes, according to recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Based on the reported numbers, alcohol-impaired driving deaths dropped 1.1% from 2016.
DUI Fatality Numbers for 2016 Revised
Fewer fatalities are always good news. But it is worth noting that NHTSA’s Alcohol-Impaired Driving: 2017 Data compares last year’s drunk driving deaths to a substantially revised number from 2016.
Both the initial annual report on alcohol-impaired driving published last October and the full report published in May 2018 stated that 10,497 people died in alcohol-involved crashes in 2016. The recently released report revised that number to 10,996.
Reporting Alcohol-Impaired Traffic Deaths
Traffic fatality data is tracked in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), and it isn’t unusual for numbers to change over time. According to a NHTSA media representative, “As the year goes on, numbers do change as additional data is entered into FARS by the States as they reconfirm the fatalities with actual death certificates.” Numbers can also go down if states find duplicate data.
However, adjustments to annual numbers are typically very slight. For example, NHTSA originally reported 10,265 drunk driving deaths for 2015 and eventually revised that number to 10,280—a change of about 0.1%. In comparison, the 2016 numbers were revised upward by nearly 5%.
The change also means that between 2015 and 2016, drunk driving deaths jumped nearly 7% instead of the 1.7% increase originally reported. That amounts to nearly two additional deaths per day on average due to alcohol-impaired driving compared to the previous year.
A Dangerous Trend?
When viewed along with stats from the past 10 years, both 2016 and 2017 stand out as particularly deadly periods on America’s roadways when it comes to alcohol-impaired crashes. After years of progress, with drunk driving deaths hovering near or even below 10,000 annually, fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving over the last two years were the highest the nation has experienced in nearly a decade.
As the following graph illustrates, the U.S. must continue to invest in and implement proven solutions to target drunk driving.
Read the full report: Alcohol-Impaired Driving: 2017 Data.
The day before Thanksgiving—known as Blackout Wednesday—is the biggest drinking day of the year in many areas of the United States.
But why has this hump-day holiday become the most popular day to binge drink?
With much of the workforce being off for a long weekend, people may feel inclined to drink without having to manage the ill-effects of too much alcohol at the office the next morning. The prospect of a large, filling meal and extra family time the next day may push people to drink more than they usually would. And, college students on break may view the Thanksgiving holiday as the last opportunity to party before their upcoming stretch of finals.
Blackout Wednesday Sees Spikes in Alcohol Sales
What began as a college student tradition to kick off the long holiday weekend has quickly become a full-blown marketing opportunity for bars, clubs, and restaurants across the country. In fact, Blackout Wednesday is becoming so popular that businesses licensed to sell alcohol actively prepare for the rush and even capitalize on the booze-fueled evening through targeted marketing campaigns to patrons—and it works.
A study conducted by Upserve found that beer sales increased 270% and liquor sales by 114% on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Additionally, growler sales increased by a staggering 658%, while food orders only increased by 28%, suggesting that “Blackout” Wednesday is living up to its name.
Drunk Driving on Thanksgiving Eve
But bars and restaurants aren’t the only ones taking advantage of Thanksgiving Eve drinking. With over 10,000 #BlackoutWednesday posts on Instagram alone, law enforcement agencies across the country are taking notice and even have their own social media messages to send, like the Dixon Police Department in Illinois.
As people begin to publicize their plans for Thanksgiving Eve across Twitter, Facebook, and more, police are also increasing their patrols and sobriety checkpoints. Many jurisdictions are also participating in NHTSA’s #BoycottBlackoutWednesday campaign to help spread awareness and combat drunk driving on this night of overindulgence.
Blackout Wednesday is Just the Beginning
Blackout Wednesday may be the biggest drinking day of the year, but it is only the beginning of the dangers of drunk driving during the Thanksgiving holiday period.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 800 people were killed in drunk driving crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period between 2012 and 2016. Additionally, one-third of all fatalities during the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday involved drunk drivers.
Help keep yourself and others safe on Turkey Day and visit this Thanksgiving and Drunk Driving Resource Center to learn more about Thanksgiving drinking and driving.
Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, football, and of course, food, but alcohol can often take center stage. Over the past five years, more than 800 people died in alcohol-involved crashes during the Thanksgiving holiday period. And, with over 45 million Americans planning to take a Turkey Day road trip this year, Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous holidays to be on the road.
Don’t let drunk driving, DUIs, and other alcohol-involved incidents squash your Thanksgiving joy. Help spread awareness of the dangers of Thanksgiving drunk driving by sharing this infographic, which features the impact of alcohol-impaired driving throughout the Thanksgiving holiday.
Higher hospital admissions rates in the UK could be linked to alcohol vendors, according to a recently released study conducted by the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).
Alcohol-Related Hospital Admissions Linked to Alcohol Vendors
The study, funded by Alcohol Research UK, is the largest of its kind worldwide and reviewed data on over one million hospital admissions in all 32,482 census areas of England over a 12-year period.
The research found that areas with the highest concentrations of bars, pubs, and nightclubs had a 13% higher admissions rate of acute conditions caused by alcohol consumption—including vomiting and drunkenness—at nearby hospitals. Additionally, hospital admissions rates in these areas had a 22% increase in chronic alcohol-related conditions like liver disease, compared to places with the lowest density of alcohol outlets.
Researchers also looked at areas with high concentrations of other types of establishments licensed to sell alcohol and found similar results:
- Areas with the highest density of restaurants saw a 9% increase in hospital admissions for acute alcohol-related conditions and a 9% increase for chronic conditions
- Areas with the highest concentration of on-trade outlets (hotels, casinos, and sports clubs) experienced an increase in hospital admissions of 12% for acute conditions and 19% for chronic conditions caused by alcohol
- Areas with the highest density of convenience stores licensed to sell alcohol saw a 10% increase in hospital admissions for acute alcohol-related conditions and a 7% increase for chronic conditions
The University’s Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Ravi Maheswaran, noted, “Although we have observed clear associations between alcohol outlet densities and hospital admissions, our study cannot confirm if these associations are causally linked…However, there is emerging evidence from other studies suggesting that local licensing enforcement could reduce alcohol-related harms.”
Could Alcohol Licensing Play a Role?
Potential implications of the study note that local alcohol licensing decisions may have an impact on the burden of area hospitals and health of the local population.
Dr. James Nicholls, the Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK believes that those responsible for alcohol licensing and regulations should take note of the study’s findings.
“We often hear that no individual outlet can be held responsible for increased hospital admissions, and because of this, licensing teams can’t plan on that basis. However, this study adds weight to the argument that licensing needs to also think about the overall level of availability in a given area.”
“Understanding the relationship between outlet density and alcohol hospital admissions is essential to reducing harm. Local licensing authorities, in particular, need to factor this information into their decisions,” he added.
Work-release inmate arrested on “pot” charge
Click here to read a story about a work release-eligible inmate in the Fauquier County jail who was arrested for possessing marijuana in order to sell it. The inmate was monitored with a GPS monitoring device.