Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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County OWI court may be ready in four months

by Chris Schultz

June 23, 2011

Elkhorn — Protecting society from people who act badly may involve more than just locking those people up.

Initiation of a Walworth County court for third to fifth-time Operating While Intoxicated offenders may be no more than four months off, according to Circuit Court Judge David Reddy. Reddy chaired the June 11 meeting of the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

"We still have to work out the details," Reddy said. However, the OWI program would involve the Sheriff's Office, judges, the probation and parole program and the District Attorney's Office in a coordinated effort to identify and enroll people who would benefit from the program.

"We are not succeeding in our present system," said Judge Robert Kennedy. "This particular idea of an OWI court may be the best thing available."

Those in the program are subject to a strict regimen to keep them from breaking the law.

"We force them to do what's right, but reward them when they do it," Kennedy said. He added that he was impressed by the program's ability to reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Earlier this month, judges, court and law enforcement staff from Walworth County traveled to Holland, Mich. for three days of instruction in the OWI court procedures.

Walworth Count does have an OWI program called Commitment Accountability Treatment Evaluation, or CATE.

The program aims to eliminate repeat offenses by those found guilty of three OWIs or more.

CATE offers reduced jail time and fines as incentives for OWI offenders to successfully complete the program. Those who don't abide by the program rules can find themselves back in jail completing their sentences.

However, participants in the CATE program pay for their treatment which limits the number of participants. The new OWI program would take in anyone who qualifies and who might benefit from the program.

A successful OWI court program could result in a savings of more than $923,000 a year, said Eric Nelson, regional supervisor for the State Public Defender's Office.

Nelson said he based his estimate on 60 successful participants in the OWI court every year, each of whom would avoid an average of 270 days in jail.

Each day in jail costs the county about $57 a day, Nelson said.

Nelson said the 60 participants in his analysis represents only about half of those with three or more OWI convictions arrested in Walworth County annually.

Nelson said other social benefits would include drug free and alcohol free babies, reduced foster care and lower costs in other social services.

The program would also reduce domestic violence and nuisance offenses and reduce attendant costs for investigation and prosecution.

It would also mean fewer absentee partners and parents due to alcoholism or incarceration.