OWI court ready for clients on Oct. 4
Strict controls lead to lower penalties, fines
September 28, 2011 | 07:48 AMELKHORN - Within one week from arrest, Walworth County residents facing their third OWI charge will have an opportunity to enroll in Walworth County's OWI Court.
The program, intended to reduce recidivism and help persons charged with third-offense OWIs avoid a fourth offense, starts Oct. 4.
Walworth County Circuit Judge David Reddy presented an outline of the program to members of the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Friday.
Reduces jail count
In addition to helping persons with alcohol and drug dependencies come to grips with their addictions, the program also promises to reduce the amount of time and bed space third-offense OWI offenders take up in the county jail, reducing daily expenses and pushing back when the county will have to either add on to its correctional facility or build a new one.
Reddy said studies showed that the OWI Court that gets someone into the program within 20 days of arrest is more efficient.
In essence, persons arrested for drunken driving will be entering a court-run program before the results of a blood draw is back from the lab.
However, that would be allowable because the OWI Court is a treatment program, Reddy said.
And, OWI defendants still have the right to refuse the treatment program and allow the OWI charge to play out in court, said District Attorney Phil Koss.
Reddy said OWI arrestees can request entry into the OWI Court by their second court appearance.
The 48-week course involves the cooperation from a number of different agencies.
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.
"A judge ultimately determines the final direction of treatment, but it is a team approach," Reddy said.
Realistically, participation is limited to three-time OWI offenders because the law provides incentives, Reddy said.
Jail time can be cut, mandatory fines and costs can be reduced to the minimum and license revocation will be for the minimum time. The program can also put three-time OWI losers on the road to recovery from alcoholism and other dependencies.
Reddy has said he expects 90 participants in the first month of the program.
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.
According to information from the county, 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 20 hours of community service per week.
Tey are also 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 alcohol 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.
If relapses happen, sanctions would be imposed.
For minor violations, such as drinking, which is detected by the TAD, the participant may be returned to the Huber Dorm for 24 hours.
For major violations, alcohol or drugs-related crimes, the participant can be kicked out of the program and returned to jail to serve out the remainder of his or her sentence.
Arrest for another OWI is automatic removal from the program.
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 program is 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 clients with third and fourth OWI convictions, is not funded. Participants have to pay their way through the program.
CATE costs clients
CATE costs are expensive enough that most offenders can't afford the program.
Funding for OWI Court will come through the budgets of the agencies involved in the program through screening participants and carrying out the OWI Court training program.
The CJCC has also discussed some grants for OWI Court funding.
On Friday, the CJCC also voted to recommend the Walworth County Board approve application for a $50,000 Intoxicated Driver Program enhancement grant through the state.
The grant will help fund some of the OWI Court costs, including treatment materials, data analysis software and for a clinical coordinator to liaison between the program and the courts.