A power struggle or miscommunication, maybe both, have put the Walworth County Drug Court in danger of ending. We’re not sure we completely understand the dispute, but one thing we do know: This program is a critical tool in the fight against the opioid epidemic.
Officials need to resolve their differences and make sure this program continues.
Many counties across the nation operate drug courts, and they’ve developed a successful track record. Drug court might cost more money to operate in the short term, but in the long run, the program saves money because it helps people overcome their addictions and keep them out of jail.
Many statistics confirm drug court’s value, especially this one: 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest free at least two years after leaving the program, compared to just 30 percent of individuals released from prison, according to the National Drug Court Institute.
In helping defendants get their lives in order, drug court also saves lives. Unfortunately, in Walworth County, several people have died from overdoses after being made eligible for the program or being denied entry to it, according to Walworth County Treatment Court coordinator Katie Behl.
Despite drug court’s many positive effects, Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld apparently is dissatisfied with its operation. Specifically, he doesn’t like the criteria, or lack of them, used to determine participant eligibility. Wiedenfeld, who’s served as district attorney since 2017, wants more authority over the program and doesn’t want judges to have the final say on naming participants.
It’s possible the criteria need to be updated. If Wiedenfeld isn’t comfortable with certain individuals enrolling in the program, his concerns ought to carry significant weight. Perhaps the committee in charge of setting eligibility requirements should reach out to other counties with drug courts to learn how they would handle Wiedenfield’s concerns.
But it’s not clear to us how the program’s current setup is problematic. Defendants enter this program voluntarily. They agree to follow drug court’s strict rules and risk getting kicked out if they don’t. They submit to greater oversight of their day-to-day lives than typically required under probation or parole. Participants are held accountable for their mistakes while getting additional resources and guidance to help them make better choices next time.
Drug court graduates often exit the program with their demons conquered and a renewed sense of purpose, whether in continuing their education or gaining stable employment. Above all else, graduates learn how to cope with life’s inevitable stresses and setbacks without resorting to drugs.
We hope Wiedenfeld, Behl and drug court judges appreciate drug court isn’t about them. It’s about the participants—people who want to reform their lives but don’t know how. Walworth County officials owe it to these participants to resolve their differences and keep drug court operating.