Matthew Bulger is a 1L at the American University’ Washington College of Law. He previously received his MPP and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management from the George Washington University and his BA in Political Science from the American University.

Legislators are increasingly concerned with the impact that controlled substances have on the healthcare and criminal justice systems. While much of the contemporary political attention focuses on criminal behavior related to drugs, research has shown that the cost of crime related to problematic alcohol usage is nearly twice that of crimes attributable to drugs.[1] Meanwhile, 31% of people in state prison and 25% of people in federal prison reported drinking alcohol at the time of their offense, a finding which suggests that problematic alcohol usage played a major role in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are currently or formerly incarcerated.[2]

States have worked for years to support policies and interventions which can help break the cycle of addiction, criminal behavior, and incarceration, but one program is gaining ground nationwide. 24/7 Sobriety, which serves as a compliance tool for individuals sentenced to community supervision where abstention from alcohol is a requirement, is finding support in state legislatures across the country.

The 24/7 Sobriety began as a pilot program in South Dakota in 2005, and has since been expanded statewide.[3] Legislation establishing this program at either the statewide or pilot level has recently been adopted in Alaska,[4] Florida,[5] Idaho,[6] Iowa,[7] Montana,[8] Nebraska,[9] Nevada,[10] North Dakota,[11] Utah,[12] Washington,[13] Wisconsin,[14] Wyoming.[15] Additionally, a bill was introduced in the last Congress with bipartisan support.[16]

The program turns traditional methods for ensuring compliance with the alcohol abstention requirement of community supervision on its head; rather than randomly testing participants and handing down draconian penalties for failure, 24/7 Sobriety has predictable testing and modest sanctions which promote just outcomes and personal accountability for participants.

Traditionally, people on community supervision are tested randomly, and failure can lead to warnings or, after multiple failures, months to multi-year long stints in jails and prisons. In 24/7 Sobriety, participants are advised that they will be tested and punished according to clearly established schedules and policies. Participants are tested twice daily (or utilize a continuous alcohol monitor) and upon failure are immediately arrested and given a sanction. These sanctions can be an immediate requirement to participate in community service, or a 6 hour jail sentence (or slightly longer in states with a different sanctions schedule).

The actual punishments and eligibility criteria for participation varies at the state level based upon the authorizing legislation passed in each state. Some states only utilize the programs for people convicted of DUI offenses while others allow for a broader array of eligible offenses, including some marijuana offenses. However, the programs are similar in that the sanctions must be immediately imposed and are designed to signify to participants that they will be held accountable for failures but not in a manner that will be destructive to their lives.

The impact of this program is a drastic decrease in alcohol related crime, and subsequently, alcohol related incarceration. In South Dakota, research found that participants experienced a 12% reduction in repeat-DUI arrests and a 9% reduction in arrests for domestic violence.[17] In Montana, participation in 24/7 reduced the 1-year DUI re-arrest probability by at least 80%.[18] In North Dakota, participants were about 30% less likely to reoffend after two months in the program compared to people on standard supervision and were 40% less likely to reoffend after two years.[19] A study published in 2023 even found that for DUI arrestees, 24/7 sobriety substantially reduces the risk of death– it found there was a 55% lower probability of death for 24/7 sobriety participants within 5 years.[20]

The practical impact of this decrease in alcohol related crimes has been a corresponding decrease in alcohol related incarceration. In South Dakota, the state invested $400,000 to make the program statewide and saved $28 million in jail costs in the first year alone.[21] This savings wasn’t because the state changed its sentencing policies or let people out of prison early; it’s because the program had been effective in breaking the cycle of problematic drinking which led to criminal behavior and eventual incarceration. As a result, less people ended up going to jail, which meant that the state could spend that money elsewhere.

That’s not to say that this program is immune from legal challenges. The ACLU filed suit in Wyoming to block its use by pre-trial participants arguing that the twice daily testing requirement was a violation of the participant’s civil rights. The ACLU also argued that the authorizing statute was unconstitutionally vague and did not necessarily require punishment. The court denied their preliminary injunction stating that participants signed a voluntary waiver of participation and that participants failing to appear for their twice-daily breath tests constituted indirect contempt, thus justifying arrest.[22]

While the Wyoming challenge is ongoing, states who are concerned with alcohol related crime could adopt their own version of the 24/7 Sobriety program to help tackle the issue and help individuals struggling with problematic drinking break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.


[1] Miller, Ted R., et al. “Costs of alcohol and drug-involved crime.” Prevention Science 7 (2006): 333-342.

[2] Maruschak, L., Jennifer Bronson, and Mariel Alper. “Alcohol and Drug Use and Treatment Reported by Prisoners.” US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (2021).

[3] “24/7 Sobriety Program.” South Dakota Attorney General,

[4] “Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP).” Prevention & Early Intervention: Alcohol Safety Action Program,

[5] H.B. 7005, 75th Leg. (Fl. 2014).

[6] H.B. 461, 62nd Leg., 2nd Sess. (Id. 2014).

[7] S. 444, 87th Leg. (Ia. 2017).

[8] H.B. 106, 62nd Leg. (Mt. 2011).

[9]  L.B. 271, 107th Leg., 1st Sess. (Ne. 2011).

[10] A.B. 316, 80th Leg. (Nv. 2019).

[11] H.B. 1302, 63rd Leg. (Nd. 2013).

[12] H.B. 26, 64th Leg. (Ut. 2021).

[13] S. 6413, 63rd Leg. (Wa. 2014).

[14] A.B. 839, Leg. (Wi. 2015).

[15] S. 31, 62nd Leg. (Wy. 2014).

[16] H.R. 8209, 117th Cong. (2022).

[17] Midgette, Greg, et al. “A natural experiment to test the effect of sanction certainty and celerity on substance-impaired driving: North Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 37 (2021): 647-670.

[18] Midgette, Greg, and Beau Kilmer. “Can novel ‘swift‐certain‐fair’ programs work outside of pioneering jurisdictions? An analysis of 24/7 Sobriety in Montana, USA” Addiction 116.12 (2021): 3381-3387.

[19] Kubas, Andrew, Poyraz Kayabas, and Kimberly Vachal. “Does the 24/7 Sobriety Program Positively Influence Driver Behaviors in North Dakota.” Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (2017).

[20]Nicosia, Nancy, et al. “Association of an Alcohol Abstinence Program With Mortality in Individuals Arrested for Driving While Alcohol Impaired.” JAMA Psychiatry (2023).

[21] Fisher, Deborah.  Intensive DWI supervision in urban areas—Feasibility study. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2013).

[22] Ready, Kate. “24/7 Sobriety Program Continues despite ACLU Lawsuit Saying It Violates Constitutional Rights.” Jackson Hole News & Guide, 22 June 2022,