SPARTA—Since Monroe County established a treatment court for drunk driving offenders, 43 have graduated and only three have re-offended.
Monroe County Circuit Court judge Richard Radcliffe believes that’s a blueprint for rehabilitating illegal drug offenders.
Radcliffe pitched his idea of a drug treatment court to an audience of law enforcement, attorneys, parole/probation officers and addiction/treatment professionals during a meeting in the Monroe County Courthouse Wednesday. He said a separate court is needed because the existing system is failing to cope with the skyrocketing number of drug cases flooding into the system.
“There’s a better way to do it,” Radcliffe said. “There’s a better way than to just arrest people, put them in jail, put them on probation and hope that they’re going to change ... it isn’t that effective.”
Radcliffe said the number of drug possession cases in Monroe County has doubled to over 1,000 annually from 2015 to 2018. He said 65 percent of inmates in the Monroe County Jail have a substance abuse problem and that 90 percent of property theft cases in the county are drug-related.
He also noted that over half the 187 people on the county’s bond monitoring program are between the ages of 30 and 49, most of whom are subject to random drug testing. He described the age profile of drug offenders as “really troubling.”
“This isn’t people getting out of high school and experimenting,” he said. “These people are middle-aged. They have families, they have jobs, and they get wrapped up in this addictive process.”
Radcliffe said the court is a “behavioral modification tool” designed to specifically address the issues of drug addiction. He said the court is more directed more toward long-term users “facing the worst possible consequences” rather than first offenders.
“It’s court; it’s not a counseling session,” Radcliffe said. “This is their last hope. Either they do this or they go to prison.”
The court has the backing of Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Croninger and Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Todd Zielger, who presides over the drunk driving court. Ziegler said running the drunk driving court “is the single most rewarding thing I do.”
“I can’t say enough about the treatment court and about the impact the treatment court has had,” Ziegler said.
Radcliffe said drug treatment courts already exist in Eau Claire, Jackson and La Crosse counties and that Juneau and Vernon counties are in the process of creating them. He said nationwide the success rate of treatment courts is 59 percent.
“This is what everyone else in the world is doing,” he said.
Radcliffe said a treatment court requires hiring a case manager and treatment professional. He hopes the program graduates 20 people per year.
“We need the county board to step up,” Radcliffe said. “We need some additional personnel to make this work. It’s a little more up front, but it pays off in the end.”
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.