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The Third Branch

Columbia County starts OWI treatment court

After more than a year in planning, Columbia County has an OWI Court in place. Its first offender appeared in court April 22.  The court uses screening criteria, accepting third offense OWI charges in which an offender has 0.20 percent blood-alcohol concentration or higher, unless otherwise approved by the treatment team.  The court was established and is headed by Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Alan J. White.

Although the process of setting up the court was long and challenging, White said it will make a difference in the lives of Columbia County residents, as well as save money on incarceration costs. 

"We were very fortunate to receive a state Treatment Alternative and Diversion (TAD) grant in the amount of $132,096 to get the court going.  We had dedicated team members, especially Patti Herman of the UW Extension, who was largely responsible for writing the grant," White said.

A number of different community groups had input into the treatment court.  The treatment team consists of representatives from the offices of the public defender, district attorney, probation and parole, Columbia County Human Services, as well as a treatment court coordinator and the circuit court.   The team attended the recent Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals Conference in La Crosse. Dane County Circuit Court Judge John W. Markson was significant in helping make the treatment court a reality, White said.

An article about the new court appeared in the Portage Daily Register, which noted Columbia County contributed $44,032 — mostly in in-kind services, such as office space.

Participants are involved in the program for 18 to 24 months. The program has three phases, starting with weekly meetings with Drug Court Treatment Program Coordinator Kelly Zuelke and other members of the drug court treatment team.

The Daily Register quoted Assistant District Atty. Troy Cross, who prosecutes most of the drunken-driving offenses in Columbia County, as saying the program is designed to be "very intensive" in order to effect change in the patterns of behavior that lead to drinking and driving.

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