Walworth County criminal justice officials on Friday said they’re looking into how they can save and sustain the county’s drug treatment court program, which some have said is on the brink of ending.
Judge David Reddy, during Friday’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee meeting, said a subcommittee is taking shape to “address enrollment” because a decreasing number of participants over the last few years has put the program at risk of losing its grant funding.
In addition to the subcommittee looking into the matter, Reddy asked if the county could tap federal money to support the program.
Reddy and others on the committee blamed low enrollment on District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld, whose office stopped utilizing treatment courts in September. The DA’s office also took plea deals off the table for defendants who are screened for treatment court. Wiedenfeld has said the program lacked explicit enough criteria for who could join it.
Reddy said during the April 14 committee meeting that the program might not qualify next year for the grant funding it has been receiving because of how few participants are in the program. On Friday, he said they have just six active participants. In the past, the program had more than 20.
Without the DA’s participation in treatment courts—and with the office’s stance on plea deals—participants are required to proceed to sentencing on their cases and hope the judge will agree to let them in the program.
Reddy said there is a consensus among treatment court advisory committee members to continue drug court and “deal with admission of participants on an argued basis and I guess just see how that works out.”
Mackenzie Renner, head of the county’s public defenders, has said previously that it’s “terrifying” for defendants to risk going to prison if the judge does not buy their argument for entering drug court.
On Friday, Renner said local defense attorneys were under the impression that drug court wasn’t taking any new participants. She said she corrected them and hopes that will result in more candidates for the program.
Also Friday, County Administrator Mark Luberda said the finance committee is beginning its discussions on how to use $20.2 million from the Democrat-backed American Rescue Plan. He said the county is fielding ideas on where to spend the funds because it could go to a “fairly broad range of topics.”
Reddy asked him if that money could help fund drug court if they don’t get another grant.
“I’m keeping my eye on that,” Luberda said in response, adding that he wants assurances that any new funding will be sustainable.
“But yes, it’s one of the potential sources in the near term anyway that could be used,” he said.
The committee’s next meeting is at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 10.