By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — The concept of a drug court began in the late 1980s as a way to address America’s growing substance abuse issues. The “court” is a judicially supervised court program that provides an alternative to jail time in which judges, attorneys, social workers, and treatment counselors participate to set goals for individuals who fall victim to substance use.
“It’s a treatment court that is set up with a judge, and you do formal court, but it’s a way to do it in a nontraditional fashion,” said Wood County Judge Todd Wolf. “In other words, they come there, and they address me, and we speak just in basic terms about what is going on for the week, how they are doing, the treatment they are getting, whether they found a sponsor, whether they are interacting with their sponsor.”
Failure to meet these goals results in sanctions that range from nominal fees to jail time.
Drug court in Wood County
“The history of drug court started in the Criminal Justice Task Force,” explained Wolf. “We were approached by what we now know as Human Services. They indicated that drug courts were becoming well-known within the nation, not necessarily in Wisconsin, but in other states.
“Members of the Criminal Justice Task Force provided a subcommittee — being the Drug Court Task Force — and we did some exploratory information back in 2004.”
A pilot program began in October 2004 using county funds, becoming the fourth treatment court in the state of Wisconsin. The court then became fully operational in 2007 when the county was awarded a treatment and diversion state grant.
Today the Wood County drug court meets every Monday at 1 p.m. at the courthouse as an extension of Branch III, where Wolf speaks with over 20 individuals on their treatment progress following a staffing meeting with attorneys and counselors who update the judge on the individuals’ progress.
“It’s more of a one-on-one with them, asking what is going on, making them explain to the other participants if they are doing bad,” said Wolf. “The important thing is it is monitored by frequent drug testing. That is one of the key components of this.”
In addition to urinalysis, participants are required to attended support meetings, find and communicate with a sponsor, participate in treatment, and later in the process find and maintain employment.
The Marshfield expansion
“In 2013, when the state realized how well drug courts were being used, they had a lot more additional funds,” stated Wolf.
That year Wood County was awarded with an $80,000 Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) for expansion. Using the funds, a drug court was developed in Marshfield, hiring a case manager to coordinate both urinalysis and treatment.
The expansion allowed drug court participants’ local access to ongoing requirements of the court by removing the drive to Wisconsin Rapids.
“It made a lot of sense to expand it to Marshfield,” said Wood County Board of Supervisors member and Marshfield Alderman Ed Wagner. “They have a system that they use where each participant is given a color, and what they do is they have to call in every morning to the treatment center, and they will tell them what color is going to go in for urine testing. It’s random, and they have a different color every day.
“So now if they are holding a job and their color gets called, it’s going to take 45 minutes to run to Rapids, a half hour for the urinalysis, the interview with the treatment officer, and then another 45 minutes back. Now they’ve spent about almost four hours out of their day off their job.
“Now in Marshfield, they are going to spend a half hour (to) 45 minutes total. That helps them hold a job and maintain some normalcy in their life.”
Funding for the Marshfield expansion through the JAG grant ended in 2016.
“Initially, they told me they needed all $80,000 (to continue the Marshfield extension),” recalled Wagner.
County leaders later came up with $45,000 in levy money to put toward the Marshfield program.
“Then there is in kind being provided through Human Services and Branch III,” Wagner added.
The remaining $22,000 for continuing the Marshfield extension was provided by the city of Marshfield through a budget resolution passed by the common council Jan. 10.
While drug court is the most common problem-solving court in the state, there are other court treatment programs for mental health issues, juveniles, domestic violence, and veterans or post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers.