RACINE COUNTY — Those with drug and alcohol addictions may become part of a revolving door of sorts.
They become drunk or high, are charged with crimes, do their time and are released back onto the street — where they may begin drinking or using drugs again. One Racine County judge often tells defendants he knows they can walk outside and find illegal drugs within minutes.
But so many people want to participate in a special treatment court that the Racine County program now is moving to expand, judges say. Racine County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Ptacek said Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court previously accepted a maximum of 35 people, and will be increasing to 50.
“We had a discussion when we got to 35 (people). We had a problem handling that many people in court,” he said. “We’ve set a goal of trying to grow to 50. We’ve just reopened the doors.”
This treatment court is a post-plea program, and it accepts defendants deemed nonviolent offenders. This specialty court team reviews prospective participants, then monitors those individuals selected to participate as they progress through the treatment program.
To help defendants recover
The specialty court began in 2006 with the goal of helping defendants enter recovery. The theory is that addicts in recovery would not be out committing new crimes, thereby reducing recidivism rates.
Members of the treatment court team — comprised of defense lawyers, the judge, probation agents, prosecutors and medical professionals — have felt rushed, like they didn’t have the time they would like to devote to each case, Ptacek explained.
They reached 35 people last year, then shut the door on new admissions and began talking about expanding, he said. Currently about 31 people are participating, he said.
Circuit Judge Tim Boyle said he will be joining Ptacek on the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court. Boyle said he will pick up new cases.
Instead of this specialty court hosting sessions every other Wednesday, it will increase to every Wednesday, Ptacek said.
More than a half-dozen candidates are being considered for admission, Ptacek said.
A doctor must diagnose the person with a specific addiction, he explained — not just that somebody likes to smoke joints. Many more are heroin users now, he said.
The defendant “must be high-risk, high-need — a lot of treatment in the past. These are people who have been around the block, quite frankly,” Ptacek said. “This approach is shown to be most effective with them in terms of recidivism and relapse, but they’re a harder group to deal with. Criminal thinkers.”
The successes, the costs
The program typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete.
Ptacek said drug court team members will make a presentation to the County Board on Tuesday, when they will provide up-to-date statistics on participants who successfully have graduated from the program since its inception.
“I think if we look at the studies that have been done … it shows this is the most effective tool in the criminal justice system for reducing recidivism and (is a) cost-saving system,” Ptacek said.
Boyle said there are funds available to cover the 15-person addition.
Early this year, Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court received a Treatment Alternatives and Diversion grant for $92,494 from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Racine County will kick in $30,831. That is the county’s portion of the matching grant, according to M.T. Boyle, chief of staff to Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave and the wife of Judge Boyle.
One of the main costs of this specialty court is the required, routine drug tests on every participant. Ptacek said defendants must be tested twice weekly.
The program is more difficult to successfully complete than, say, prison or jail terms, he said. They must appear in court every two weeks, undergo drug and alcohol testing each week, attend recovery support groups and explain to the judge how they’re doing.
“This is based on behavior modification. We praise them and reward them for their (good) behavior,” Ptacek said. There are “sanctions for not performing, taking away things, jail.”
“This approach is shown to be most effective with them in terms of recidivism and relapse, but they’re a harder group to deal with.”