Lafayette County sheriff, judge hope OWI court will help give repeat offenders treatment they need

Lafayette County will soon have a new alternative to help repeated offenders of drunken driving.

Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers announced at a news conference Monday that the 2019-21 state budget includes $1.5 million for expanding drug courts. A grant of more than $118,000 will go Lafayette County to create an operated-while-intoxicated, or OWI, court.

“We have significant alcohol and drug issues in Lafayette County,” said Judge Duane Jorgenson. “It doesn’t make us unique. I think that’s the case all across the state of Wisconsin.”

The OWI court, an alternative to incarcerating repeat offenders, will take about 10 people at a time. The program would require them to maintain sobriety, come before the court on a weekly basis and go to weekly treatment and behavioral therapy. They would also be subjected to random testing to make sure that they are staying sober.

Jorgenson said the OWI treatment court has proved effective in the surrounding counties that have it, including Grant, Iowa and Dane.

The program would not be targeted at first or second time offenders, but those who continue to drive while intoxicated beyond those offenses.

“We have not seen where putting people in jail over and over has really made a big difference in (repeat offenders),” said Lafayette County Sheriff Reg Gill. “It’s easy for them to be alcohol free while they’re locked up in jail, but the minute that they get back out, they tend to go back to their same lifestyle.”

The OWI court would have five phases and milestones that offenders have to complete, and would take about 18 months to finish.

The grant money would pay for one new staff member, as well as breathalyzer and drug testing.

The county implemented a drug court earlier this year, joining forces with nearby Green County.

Jorgenson said the goal is to have the OWI court up and running by July 2020.

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