116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
There appear to be many positives and few negatives to a self-funding sobriety program being discussed in the legislature.
House File 109 is based on a 2005 South Dakota initiative known as the 24/7 Sobriety Program. Iowa lawmakers recently heard from Art Mabry of the S.D. Attorney General's Office about the neighboring state's experiences.
The program's aim is to keep chemical abuse offenders sober, and it is billed as an alternative to jail.
Participants are tested at least every 12 hours for drug and/or alcohol use, but are otherwise able to continue their lives. If a person skips or fails a test, a 12-hour jail sentence is imposed. Fail or skip a second time and face a 24-hour jail sentence. A third violation places the person back before the court.
Also, participants can choose a variety of ways to test, ranging from traditional breath or urine testing to ankle monitoring. Costs vary according to the monitoring selected and are paid by the participant, which makes the program self-supporting.
While the details of a similar Iowa-based system aren't yet set in stone, South Dakota officials have found significant success using their program as a condition of bond, suspended sentence and parole. There have also been instances where monitoring has been a condition of minors being returned to a home.
While the initiative was originally rolled out to combat driving under the influence of alcohol, it was quickly expanded to include other substance abuse. Organizers learned that once alcohol was taken away, some participants were migrating to other substances.
And that situation brings up one of the potential negatives. The program, at least the way it is run in South Dakota, provides monitoring, not treatment. We hope any similar option implemented in Iowa will either include a treatment option or allow for continued use of existing programs that do.
Also, the most convenient of the monitoring options are cost prohibitive to a point that some Iowans may find themselves without the resources to participate. Inasmuch as we like the idea of a self-sustaining program, we dislike the idea of such jail alternatives only being available to affluent offenders.
Regardless, Iowa must work to reduce racial disparities in the justice system, and reduce costly jail sentences for non-violent offenders.
Initiatives like 24/7 Sobriety could be paths toward both goals.
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