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OWI court to help OWI offenders in Lafayette County
LafCo Courthouse

DARLINGTON – The Wisconsin Department of Justice awarded Lafayette County with a Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) grant in the amount of $118,533 for a two-year funding period, to help establish an operated while intoxicated, or OWI, court in the county.

“It is something I am very passionate about and grateful we received it,” said Court Services Director Kris Fleming.

The OWI court is a five-phase program that helps reduce recidivism rates, reduce participants’ substance abuse and provide rehabilitation. It will take about 10 participants at a time.

This has been a long process to get this program started in the county. They first began looking into grants to help fund an OWI or drug court after Judge Duane Jorgenson was elected in 2015.

The grant starts January 1, 2020. The county is hoping to have someone as the Treatment Court Clinician by the end of January. The goal is to have the program up and running by July 1.

Fleming explained that sending people to prison or jail with no treatment doesn’t really work. Jails and prisons are filling up with people that are addicts and then they are getting back out and doing the same thing.

“People make mistakes and if I have an addiction and I haven’t had treatment to help me deal with the addiction, I’m going to continue to do it,” said Fleming.

  The program will look at helping those with an addiction to alcohol learn about their addiction and giving them coping skills so they don’t start using again.

A team of representatives from the county – judge, law enforcement, probation and parole, district attorney, public defender, court services – work together to hold participants accountable for their own sobriety and transformation back into society.

 “It is not an easy program,” Fleming clarified. Participants, who are high-risk offenders who have several OWI offenses, have to pay for the program. They are required to find a job, housing, attend counseling, meetings and mandatory court appearances, along with random drug and alcohol testing.

In order to attend all of these requirements, they need reliable transportation. The TAD grant allows for transportation opportunities so people are able to make those requirements.

The program also pushes participants to get their drivers license. With an OWI on their record, an additional cost is added. They will also need to do a driver safety plan assessment that is only done through Human Services.

The county’s program is post-conviction, meaning a participant can only be in after the judge has sentenced them and they serve their minimum required jail time.

“This program will allow the entire criminal justice system to look at the issue of addiction in our county,” stated Lafayette County District Attorney Jenna Gill. “The individuals that will be participating don’t want to continue re-offending, but the support and resources are lacking in our county.  This program will provide the structure and support for them to succeed so they don’t end up back in the court system or in jail/prison. This program will work to get those individuals the treatment they need to be a contributing member of our community.”

Wisconsin’s first OWI court opened to participants in 2006 in Waukesha County. The TAD program is now operating in almost 50 counties and two tribes in Wisconsin.

TAD projects offer cost-savings in terms of jail and prison days averted.

“When doing the jail assessment, they needed to know how many people we thought we would need to house. This will reduce the amount of people in the jail and lower the cost for the county when the jail project is being done,” said Fleming.

According to the Department of Justice, 81% of TAD graduates did not have any new convictions after three years.

“Even if they fail at the program, they still learn skills. They spend a period of time with sobriety; they have those supports, and the intense treatment. Even if they are not successful, they are still getting something out of it,” Fleming said.

Fleming also addressed the immense amount of support they have had from Rep. Todd Novak, the district court administrator’s office, Sheriff’s office, district attorney and the county board. Lafayette County is providing an in-kind match of 25% of the grant funding to allow residents access to the valuable service.

They are also moving personnel costs from the grant to county levy funding in incremental amounts to allow the county to continue in the program when the grant funding ends.