DUII Evaluation Program Put on Notice

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 26, 2009 | Go to article overview

DUII Evaluation Program Put on Notice


Byline: Whitney Malkin The Register-Guard

County officials last week announced plans to dismantle an alcohol evaluation program that plugs a few thousand drunk drivers into treatment each year.

The DUII Evaluation Unit has fallen victim to a $55,000 deficit that county officials think will swell to more than $130,000 by the end of the fiscal year. The sudden notice has treatment providers and judges wondering what will become of the DUII system as the county unit shuts its doors after more than 20 years.

The financial problems started in July when the county, facing other budgetary pressures, pulled the roughly $250,000 it provided annually to keep the program afloat, Lane County Mental Health program manager Al Levine said.

When those funds vanished, program managers tried to pay the bills with the $150 fee required of each client for addiction evaluation.

Things got worse this fall and winter, with a lack of funded jail beds and a crumbling economy.

People just stopped showing up for their county evaluations and private treatment.

"We're sort of seeing the perfect storm," said Levine. "We're getting a lot of no-shows because people know they're not going to get put in jail. Other people aren't coming because they just can't afford the evaluation fee. That evaluation fee is the only revenue this program has."

Between April and November, the no-show rate of court referrals to the county's evaluation unit doubled.

Ann-Marie Bilderback, executive director for Prevention and Recovery Northwest, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment and prevention service, said only about 30 out of every 100 people who go to court for a DUII citation actually make it to treatment.

"Part of the problem is, the word on the street is you don't need to go," said Lane County Circuit Court judge Ted Carp. "You need a better balance of jail and treatment facilities to get people to treatment."

Levine said the county plans to replace the program with independent evaluators.

"We're one of the few counties that provide this service," said Levine, who recommended the county cut the program. "I think the service can be done effectively by the private sector."

Despite the common practice elsewhere of outsourcing evaluations, the county's recommendation to demolish the program has Circuit Court judges frustrated.

"We're talking about a very small amount of money which is essential to diversion and treatment," said Carp. "No one wants to have to decide where to make cuts, but this is a mistake. This is a very modest amount of money they'd be saving - it doesn't make any sense."

The proposed funding cut now comes amid the backdrop of an accident in west Eugene last week that claimed four lives, including those of two children, who were killed when their vehicle was struck by a motorist who has since been charged with speeding and drunk driving. …

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