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Drug court launches, targets opiate addicts



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July 22, 2014 | 11:04 AM
ELKHORN — On Thursday afternoon, Judge David Reddy welcomed the first five participants, the inaugural class, to the Walworth County Drug Court.

The inaugural class mostly consists of offenders in their 20s or younger. The participants were all recently facing heroin-related charges, which could potentially carry prison terms.

However, they were offered a deal by the Walworth County District Attorney’s office. The offenders could plead guilty to the charges, enter the treatment court and upon successful completion have those charges cleared from their record.

In a treatment court, offenders receive a significantly reduced sentence, and report to the court regularly about the progress they are making in treatment. The offenders are also randomly drug screened, have curfews and are connected to electronic monitoring.

Violations of the rules set by the court could lead to sanctions or removal from the program. If an offender is kicked out of the program, he or she will be sentenced on their original charge.

Planning for the Walworth County Drug Court has been ongoing since the end of last year. In 2013, county officials learned about a grant opportunity and applied for it. County officials learned they received the grant in early 2014. The participants who were welcomed to the court on Thursday all pleaded guilty to a heroin-related charge. The participants were ordered to spend five days in county jail, without work-release privileges. They also were sentenced to two years of probation. The participants also must pay a $500 program fee.

After pleading guilty to the charges, Reddy gave the participants a chance to speak.

One participant told Reddy that “I’m grateful for this program...and I think it’s going to help me succeed” and another said “I apologize for breaking the law, and I will make the most of the drug court opportunity.”

One of the participants, a 28-year-old Pell Lake man, had his probation revoked when he was arrested for two misdemeanor counts. He may have been heading to prison.

“I’m ready to move on for sure,” the man told Reddy. “I’ll hold you to that,” Reddy responded.

After the court proceeding, Reddy said offenders who had their probation revoked could provide significant savings to taxpayers who would otherwise be funding their incarceration.

“I think this court is something this county has needed for a long time, and I look forward to participating,” a 24-year-old Walworth woman, who facing a probation revocation after a heroin possession charge, told Reddy.

“We are looking forward to you participating as well,” Reddy said.

Gatekeepers

Reddy said the Walworth County District Attorney’s office will act as gatekeepers to the program. The DA’s office will decide who is eligible to participate in the program.

Currently, the program is geared toward opiate addicts, offenders facing drug possession charges.

What about offenders who are arrested after committing drug-fueled crimes to support their habits? Finding those offenders eligible will be “excessively rare,” District Attorney Daniel Necci said.

He said victim’s rights will be placed before the offender’s treatment. However, when the victim is a family member who wants to see a loved one receive help, Necci said those may be cases referred to the drug court.

On Thursday afternoon five participants were welcomed to the drug court. Another potential participant appeared in court and his attorney discussed his plans to join the treatment court.

Reddy said the maximum number of participants at a time will be between 10 and 15.

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