Walworth County Judicial Center in Elkhorn, Wis.


State funding for Walworth County Drug Court is at risk because of the program’s low participation, the treatment court coordinator said during a meeting Friday.

For months, the future of the county’s treatment courts, particularly drug court, have been uncertain after District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld said he might withdraw his office’s support from the program.

While the uncertainty still exists, more clarity could come later this summer.

Katie Behl, treatment court coordinator, said Friday during the county Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee meeting that they had a May 23 call with the state Department of Justice about Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program funding.

Department of Justice representatives visited Walworth County in March. They attended drug court and reviewed policies and procedures, Behl said.

The county receives $125,000 per year for drug court, which has 14 participants. Its capacity is 25.

Judge Daniel Johnson, who oversees drug court, said the number of participants is “obviously not ideal.” He said the sessions are running much quicker—Thursday’s hearing finished an hour early.

Behl said Department of Justice officials showed concern about the number of participants.

“If our numbers are as low as they are, they’re going to review our application, and our funding will be cut in 2020 as well,” she said.

There were no specifics on what the cuts would look like. Instead, Behl said, they were encouraged to use the funding they have and sort through the ongoing issues before applying again in the fall.

In one example, Behl said, she was recently quoted a price of $55 per drug test per participant if the grant funding is gone. That would mean $5,280 for each OWI court participant (there are 17 now with two potentially joining soon) and nearly $8,000 for each drug court participant if each finishes the program in the minimum amount of time.

“If we lose any of our funding, honestly, from that it would have a global impact on our programs,” she said.

If the program lost its funding, Behl said, she anticipates they could get enough money to allow current participants to finish.

Wiedenfeld, who was prosecuting a jury trial Friday, was not at the meeting.

He previously has said he would like more explicit criteria for who can and cannot enter drug court. Such guidelines exist with OWI court in that only third- and fourth-offense intoxicated drivers can enter.

The absence of such criteria for drug court has caused him safety concerns over program participants. Others have pointed out that almost all the program entrants have seen support from all sides.

Reached later Friday, Wiedenfeld said in an email that the focus should not be on grant funding before they can establish “how we can best provide much needed treatment to people who can receive treatment safely within the community.”

Treatment court is not about obtaining grants and is about helping the community, he said. He has said before he supports treatment overall.

Several county officials, including judges, have spoken in favor of treatment courts.

The Walworth County Board in April unanimously passed a resolution showing its support, citing the program’s ability to save tax dollars, reduce recidivism and maintain public safety.

But some criminal justice officials have said support from the DA’s office is necessary for the programs to continue.

Grant funding for another county court program could be at risk, too.

The county receives $90,000 in TAD funding for pretrial services, such as risk assessments for bail hearings. The funding is in trouble there in part because money is going toward services that aren’t exclusively focused on diverting those with substance abuse issues from the criminal justice system, Behl said.

Johnson said the services are “incredibly valuable” and would be “a shame to lose.”

The county is in its third year of a noncompetitive grant cycle and needs to apply around September to keep going. If in the future it has to apply for a competitive grant against counties who are at capacity, Behl said she was unsure how well Walworth County could do.

On July 31, the county will have training that features someone from a national treatment court organization. It also will work through policy challenges, Behl said.

If there’s a resolution at that meeting, Behl said, they would hopefully see more participants enter the program.

“So I think the plan is that on the July 31 meeting, we walk out of that meeting knowing if it’s continuing or not,” Behl said.

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