Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2005
Source: Journal Times, The (Racine, WI)
Copyright: 2005 The Journal Times
Author: Janine Anderson
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Reporter's note: Nationally, 65 to 85 percent of jail inmates have 
addiction problems. There is no reason to think Racine County is any different.

Drug courts in other counties - in Wisconsin and nationwide - have seen 
tremendous success in helping people overcome problems with drugs and 
alcohol, and helping them stay out of jail.

For the past several years a group of Racine County officials and residents 
have been trying to get a drug treatment court started here, hoping that 
the combination of education and treatment could help some people beat 
their addictions.

The county's team finished its training a few weeks ago, and is now working 
on the final stage before a pilot program can begin. The county has pledged 
its support, setting aside $5,000 to help the program get started. The 
program would start with repeat drunken drivers, possibly five to 10 
annually, and grow from there.

These stories take a look at what has happened in Dane County, and why a 
drug court may help here.

MADISON - Sitting through a drug treatment court session is alternately 
heartbreaking and inspiring.

Graduates speak about how they turned their lives around: building new 
relationships with family and friends, finding stable employment, getting 
off drugs. Staff members talk about progress made, how graduates got clean, 
stayed clean and turned their lives around.

Then the court moves on, from the people at the end of the program to the 
ones still moving through it. It is there that you hear about the struggle 
before the triumph.

About three dozen people were due to appear at the Dane County Drug 
Treatment Court Aug. 19 in Madison. The men and women there had all been 
charged with crimes somehow related to drug abuse, but instead of working 
their way through the criminal court, they were sent to the drug court and 
Judge Sarah O'Brien.

The morning started with graduations, including Nelson Plapp, who 
originally faced felony and misdemeanor drug charges.

Plapp's story is a classic one of success. He was commended for being open, 
honest and up front with court staff throughout the process. He worked to 
earn his high school diploma.

But while he ultimately succeeded, it wasn't easy.

Plapp "came in with some very strong opinions," said Lila Schmidt, clinical 
services coordinator for the drug court. He didn't think he had a problem, 
she told the court, and was a strong advocate for the legalization of 

Kenneth Farmer, the assistant district attorney who works with the drug 
court, said Plapp was motivated, but noted he had missed several tests, 
including one that extended his graduation date.

The drug court is set up to handle lapses; it recognizes that getting off 
drugs is hard, requires support and treatment, and takes time.

After the last graduate walked away with a certificate, the real court 
process began.

The people coming before O'Brien originally faced criminal charges, but 
instead of paying the fines or serving jail time, they agreed to get help 

The program requires them to be treated for their addictions, however 
serious or minor the problem. The drug court can send people to residential 
treatment facilities, have them report for outpatient medical treatment, or 
provide them with educational support. Most people spend about nine months 
in the drug court program. Before they can graduate, they must have no 
missed or dirty tests for 90 days.

Some people do well right away, never missing a test and never testing 
positive for drugs. Others slip, failing to pick up medications, to produce 
for a urine test, or testing positive for drugs they are not supposed to be 

Two people dropped out of the program that day, one because he couldn't get 
regular transportation, the other because it was too hard.

Most were trying, working to find ways to stay away from the drugs that got 
them in trouble. Some succeeded, some didn't. Some earned another chance, 
others were sent to jail.

Dane County has had a drug court for nine years, and has been regarded as a 
success for much of that time.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk was elected shortly after the program 
started. She said she was initially skeptical of its effectiveness, but has 
since been convinced. She gives the program $350,000 from the county's 
property taxes each year to keep it running.

"It saves expensive jail beds and it turns lives around," she said. "There 
wasn't enthusiasm by the stakeholders when it first started, and rightly 
so. People should be skeptical of something new, but evidence continued to 
come in and show it was working."

Between 1996 and 2004, the most recent statistics available from Dane 
County, 428 people had graduated from the drug court program, a 70 percent 
successful completion rate. Those people are about half as likely to 
re-offend than people who did not graduate from the program. Graduates had 
babies that were born drug-free, they found employment and they had their 
children returned to them.

Beyond the personal and social benefits, the drug court has saved the 
county thousands of dollars since 1996 because drug court is so much 
cheaper than jail time. In 2003, the per-day cost for a person in the drug 
court was about $17.78; the per-day cost for a jail stay was estimated at 

For about five years, a group of people have been trying to start a drug 
court here. Joe Kivlin, municipal judge for Wind Point and North Bay and a 
founder of the Alliance for Drug and Alcohol Management, has been one of 
the most active.

"From a human standpoint, it enables people to identify and deal with this 
illness that they have," Kivlin said. "It's a public health benefit, it's a 
social benefit in the sense that it enables people to stay together as a 
family, to hold a job, to pay taxes and be a normal good citizen."

That is the goal of any drug court, whether it is in Dane County or Racine 
County, to break the cycle of addiction that leads so many people back to 
jail, Kivlin said.
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MAP posted-by: Elizabeth Wehrman