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Surcharge may fund jail diversion program

County charges $50 to install interlocks

December 01, 2010 | 08:32 AM
Elkhorn — A proposal that the county fund at least part of a drunken driving treatment program through a surcharge on the installation of auto ignition interlocks will go to the Walworth County Board's Finance Committee this month.

Walworth County Judge David Reddy suggested it to the County Board's Executive Committee at its November meeting.

The committee endorsed the recommendation.

The county collects a $50 surcharge from each automobile interlock system installed in cars of those arrested for drunken driving.

The interlock tests for alcohol on a driver's breath before allowing the car to start.

Currently, the surcharge goes to the treasurer's office with no specific designation.

Offenders should pay

"Let those offending pay for treatment," Reddy said.

A study of the Walworth County jail is reaching completion.

A census of those in jail shows that a large part of the county's jail population are on pretrial hold because they can't meet bond.

The next largest group is under probation hold.

"But for bond or probation, they wouldn't be in jail," Reddy told the County Board's Executive Committee during its November meeting.

Since December 2009, the county's Executive Committee and the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee have been taking a comprehensive look at the county's growing jail population and at alternatives to incarceration.

The county's 2010 capital improvement plan set aside $9.6 million for the jail starting in 2012. County Administrator David Bretl is a bit more optimistic now that the County Board has been studying the jail and the county justice system.

Jail delayed

In his 2011 budget, Bretl delayed capital expenditures on the jail to 2014.

Walworth County staff and supervisors have reviewed programs initiated in neighboring Rock County, and have also reviewed programs in Dodge, Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, La Crosse, Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Washington counties.

Among the programs under consideration are programs for drunken drivers and substance abusers, sometimes referred as alcohol court and drug court.

In alcohol court, convicted drunken drivers would volunteer to undergo a controlled regimen to achieve and maintain sobriety.

If completed, drunken drivers might spend significantly less time in jail, or have no jail time at all. A drug court would work the same way for those arrested for drug crimes.

The benefit of either program would be fewer inmates in jail, which might cut costs and delay the need for a jail expansion or a new jail.

Reddy said the county has applied for grants which would help pay to train those involved in alcohol and drug courts, if the County Board decides to go that route.

What will be needed, Reddy said, is a comprehensive program to evaluate arrestees and decide who will stay in jail and who can go to an alternative program.

Called a risk assessment, it's possible the county would rely on an outside source to interview jail inmates and do a risk assessment.

This is not a perfect solution. There is always a risk that programs can fail and former offenders can cross the line and offend again.

But not all alternatives are financially feasible, Reddy said.

"If you locked up everyone for life for curfew violation, you would reduce crime," Reddy said.

And it would pack the jail.

Can't solve everything

"There's nothing out there that's going to solve all of the problems," Reddy said.

Eric Nelson, regional supervisor for state Public Defenders Office and a member of both Rock and Walworth counties' criminal justice coordinating committees, said there are people who are dangerous and who need to be locked up.

And there are people who are not dangerous who are locked up, too.

Six years ago, Rock County was in the same position as Walworth County, looking at a multimillion dollar expansion of its jail.

Rock County then created diversion programs for drunken drivers, substance abusers and veterans. In 2008, the jail expansion was suspended, Nelson said.

"Counties are starting to take a hardr look at what the purpose of jail is.

Many have alternative programs to deal with nonviolent offenders, those guilty of substance abuse, anti-social attitudes or for family strife," Nelson said.

"We have to incarcerate the people we're afraid of and not the people we're mad at," he said.

Successful completion of the treatement programs leads to outcomes based on the seriousness of the penalties the offenders might otherwise face. In some cases, charges are dismissed, in others, charges are reduced. For a few, it might mean probation instead of jail time.

Less jail crowding

But in all cases, it means fewer jail inmates and less jail crowding, Nelson said.

Nelson said Rock County is saving a net of $1.5 million through drug treatment court by reducing jail bed days.

Nelson said Rock County is still refining its jail diversion process, Nelson said.

Right now, treatment process takes from 9 months to 1 year, he said.

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