County hopes state will `just say yes’ to drug court
Portage County officials hope to secure funding to create and establish a drug court in 2017 in an effort to reduce drug-related crimes and treat those offenders for drug addiction.
Justice Program Director Kate Kipp received approval from county committees over the past several weeks (the most recent from Finance Committee June 20) to submit an application for a Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) grant from the state of Wisconsin. The $125,000 grant would allow the county to provide an alternate to incarceration in the form of a drug court for select crimes.
“We’ve tried prison, and there are some people that still belong there because they’re dangerous, but for individuals who are not dangerous but are addicted and violating probation over and over again, we need to try something different,” Judge Thomas Flugaur said.
The drug court at this time would be for adult offenders. The application is due July 19; the county will learn if it is awarded the grant in September.
Drug courts were first established in the late 1980s as a way to reduce prison crowding and high recidivism across the nation. Wisconsin jumped on board after a state Department of Corrections report in 2009 showed that more than 20 percent of the increase in prison population between 1996 and 2006 were drug offenders.
In 2015, records showed 73 operational treatment courts in the state with two others in the process of establishing treatment courts. Of those, 36 were drug courts, six of which were hybrid driving while intoxicated (DWI)/drug courts.
In this area, Wood County has operated a drug court since 2004, Marathon County has had a DWI court since 2011, and Waushara County began a hybrid DWI/drug court in July 2014. In Wood County, according to 2015 county statistics, 64 individuals have graduated from drug court since its inception, which has saved taxpayers $745,355 in incarceration costs. In addition, within three years of release, just 19 percent of program participants reoffended compared to 77 percent nationwide.
“With the right amount of accountability, we can really make a difference,” Kipp said. “The long-term rate to stay in recovery is just so strong.”
Kipp has not yet submitted the grant so details of how the Portage County court would be designed, how the funds would be used specifically and statistics involved in drug-related crimes were not available at press time.
But generally, the drug court would be part of the existing court system, though only one judge – Flugaur – would handle the offenders who were selected for the court. Those committing felony, nonviolent, drug-related crimes would be screened for potential placement in the drug court.
Once the offender is convicted, regardless of which judge handled the case, if the offender is eligible for drug court the judge could sentence the offender to drug court in lieu of incarceration. A screening process would determine which offenders could be eligible.
Participants in drug court would be under house arrest, highly monitored, highly supervised and require intense therapy and counseling for the addiction.
“They’re being tested constantly, and they’re being treated constantly,” Flugaur said. “That’s what this drug court is – test, test, test; treat, treat, treat. There are different stages they have to go through. If there are relapses, as there are with people who are addicted, there will be sanctions.”
The county courts handle more than 1,000 files each year. While there could be multiple files on one person, Flugaur said between 50 and 80 percent of the cases coming through the court system deal with addiction, both alcohol and drugs.
Portage County already operates a pre-trial, post-trial program for third time and higher DWI offenders that Flugaur said is “working pretty well,” so the TAD grant, should the county receive it, will establish a court specific to drug-related crimes due to addiction to substances such as heroin, meth, cocaine and marijuana. Those addicted to prescription drugs causing crimes might also be eligible for drug court.
While it is not yet known how many offenders this could impact, Flugaur said he sees at least one offender every two weeks in his court that could be eligible. Due to the intensity of the program standards, which includes at least weekly contact with more than a half dozen different individuals not including the judge, the county would cap the number allowed through drug court at 20 at any given time.
The average length of time for a drug court participant to succeed and graduate from the program is 15 months, Flugaur said, during which time that person will be having contact and/or meeting on a weekly basis with the judge, probation and parole officers, case managers, treatment personnel, prosecutor and public defenders, law enforcement personnel and a drug court coordinator. The participant also would have daily drug testing, at least at the beginning of the program.