Mental illness, DUI link studied
Lackawanna County one of six sites in nation to participate.
STAFF WRITER A project out of Harvard Medical School selected Lackawanna County as one of six sites nationally to pilot a computer program to identify links between mental illness and DUI arrests.
Since June, the county tested more than 100 suspected DUI offenders using the Computerized Assessment and Referral System, or CARS, said William Hoban, the director of the Lackawanna/ Susquehanna Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs, which is running the program.
“It really has been a great and innovative program for us to be a part of,” Mr. Hoban said. “We certainly see it as a valuable tool.”
Although the program officially ended last month, several of the sites, including Lackawanna County, decided to keep using it, Mr. Hoban said.
The project cites a study that suggested 45 percent of repeat DUI offenders have a major mental disorder that is not alcohol- or drug-related.
The CARS test asks people multiple-choice questions on issues pertaining to if they ever considered hurting
themselves, if they often feel sad for long periods of time, and if they often have arguments with others.
While the main goal is to ensure the program can gather smoothly data on mental illness, it also identifies people who may need a more extensive mental health screening for something like depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. Of the 104 people the program tested, Mr. Hoban’s office referred 101 to various mental health services. Ideally, the program will cut down on people re-offending by helping them address their mental health issues.
Whether they follow through is up to the individual, Mr. Hoban said, and is not tracked by this program.
The initial screening is free to offenders who agree to take the computer test as part of their bail conditions. It costs the county nothing, Mr. Hoban said, because offenders take the test on county computers set up at his office.
The program is part of the Lackawanna County Court system’s push to address root causes of crimes — like mental health and addiction — in a pretrial setting, and hopefully reduce them.
Lackawanna County is using the test immediately on suspected offenders, rather than waiting months for the criminal case to be resolved.
The other five CARS sites are Milwaukee; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Stockton, California; and Cambridge and Duluth in Minnesota.
All the sites reported a relatively smooth transition to integrate the computer test into their criminal justice systems, and several may use the test in other environments, such as mental health court and in local jails, said Erin Holmes, spokeswoman for the project.