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Program seeks to cure three-time OWIs

August 31, 2011 | 07:51 AM
ELKHORN — Starting Oct. 4, persons convicted of a third Operating While Intoxicated offense in Walworth County will be eligible for OWI Court.

The 48-week course is designed to get drunken drivers to come to grips with their addictions and to break the hold alcohol and drugs have on their lives, said Walworth County Circuit Judge David Reddy.

"This is an effort that involves a number of different agencies," he said.

The DA's office, the public defenders office, probation and parole, human resources, law enforcement and in particular the jail, all cooperate to make the program work.

The goal is to reduce recividism. To make sure that third-offense OWIs don't become a fourth offense, Reddy said.

Realistically, participation is limited to three-time OWI offenders because the law provides incentives, Reddy said.

Jail time can be cut, the mandatory fine can be reducted to the minimum and license revocation will be for the minimum time.

The advantages for the participant are that he or she can avoid maximum fines and jail. It can also put three-time OWI losers on the road to recovery from alcoholism and other dependencies.

The advantages to the county are that the program can reduce the number of people in the jail and Huber dorm, reducing costs, Reddy said. It can also cut into recividism, so three-time OWI offenders don't wind up as four-time offenders.

Reddy said he expects 90 participants in the first month of the program.

"It's win-win,:" Nancy Russell said of OWI court. Russell is Walworth Copunty Board chairwoman and a member of the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

The County Board and the CJCC are working together to find ways to keep offenders out of detention and also find ways to keep offenders from re-offending.

"We can save people's lives and save taxpayers' money," said Russell.

Russell credited Reddy and Walworth Circuit Court Judge Robert Kennedy with pulling the program together and helping make it a reality.

The County Board's Executive Committee has also contributed to making the new OWI program a reality, said Russell. And County Administrator David Bretl did considerable work in getting the Executive Committee, County Board and CJCC to work together to find ways to reduce the county's jail population.

While the OWI Court shields participants from maximum penalties, it's not a summer camp.

To participate, an OWI defendant must be a Walworth County resident whose third offense happened in Walworth County.

The first two convictions can be from anywhere, Reddy said.

The defendant has to plead guilty and agree to abide by the program requirements.

Those accepted into the program receive two years probation with the possibility of early release.

The program is divided into four 12-week phases.

The participant will spend the first two days in jail.

And for the first 43 days on the program, he or she will be in the county Huber program.

After that, if the participant makes it that far, he or she will be released to probation and parole.

For the first 24 weeks, the participant will also have to attend OWI court review hearings every other Tuesday.

The participant will also have to seek and maintain employment or do 20hours of community service per week.

The participant will also be required to pay a minimum of $30 a week for court fees and treatment costs.

After the first 12 weeks, the participant gives up the electronic monitoring bracelet for a TAD (transdermal alchohol monitoring device) bracelet.

The TAD can detect alcohol through the wearer's skin.

The second 24 weeks don't get any easier, with random screenings, substance abuse counseling and monthly attendance at OWI court reviews.

Relapse, though not encouraged, is expected.

"We're dealing with hardcore drinkers," Reddy said.

If relapses happen, sanctions would be imposed.

For minor violations, the participant may be returned to the Huber Dorm for 24 hours.

For major violations, such as using alcohol or drugs, the participant can be kicked out of the program and returned to jail o serve out the remainder of his or her sentence.

Arrest for another OWI is automatic removal from the program.

"That is the only hard and fast (sanction) we've talked about," Reddy said.

Those who complete the program might still have to complete their 24 month probationary periods, with monthly visits to a case manager.

The OWI Court will be based on the county's existing CATE program, which stands for Commitment Accountability Treatment Evaluation program.

The CATE program was developed by Dr. David Thompson of the county's Health & Human Services Department.

However, CATE, which currently takes in third and fourth OWI convictions, is not funded.

The participants have to pay their way through the program.

It's expensive enough that most offenders can't afford the program, Reddy said.

Funding for the OWI court will come through grants and perhaps some county funding as well.

OWI Court will take the majority of those convicted of their third OWI, leaving CATE to those convicted a fourth time.

According to the Walworth County website, fees for the CATE program runs as follows:

- Intake fee maximum $187.50 (on sliding scale).

- OWI assessment $225.

- Group therapy sessions $51 a week.

- Book fee $20 due the first week.

- Electronic monitoring $17 per day from release Huber Dorm. Monitoring fee drops to $12 a day after bracelet is removed at Level 4.

- Surveillance $17 per day until program completion.

Timely payments are required. Late or missed payments will result in a program violation.

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