New County Justice Council Takes Aim at Recidivism

The Door County Board approved the creation of a council made up of law enforcement and human services representatives to research policies aimed at criminal justice reform, including getting a treatment court in Door County and rehabilitating lawbreakers.

Circuit Court Judge David Weber said the formation of the council would just formalize meetings that are already taking place between law enforcement officials.

As an example, Weber said the current system often jails people for not paying fines related to their arrest, but when they are in jail they lose their job, making it even harder for them to pay fines they couldn’t pay in the first place.

“I’m fining somebody that my clerk turns to me and says, ‘They already have two to three thousands dollars [in fines] outstanding’,” Weber said. “We’re talking about releasing them prior to sentencing because the statistics show that certain people do much better when they are released, when they can retain their jobs, when they can be productive in the community… We do not want to incarcerate people just because they can’t pay.”

Weber assured the board that the policy would not apply to everyone, but the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council (CJCC) would work to determine the type of people that would be most likely to benefit from the practice and how they would be monitored.

That is just one of the many criminal justice topics the CJCC will explore.

“It’s a good thing to try counseling instead of incarceration,” said county supervisor Richard Virlee. “If we stay on the path we’re on we’re probably looking at putting an addition on our jail to have enough housing.”

“I think our major goal here is to stop the recidivism rate,” said county supervisor Jon Koch. “Find better ways of dealing with potential inmates beside boarding them and housing them on taxpayer money.”

Weber said the move could make for good economic policy as well. Having would-be nonviolent inmates working in their jobs under close watch instead of sitting in jail all day will make them more likely to pay off their outstanding fines, giving county law enforcement the opportunity to recoup costs that would otherwise go unpaid.

Having a formal council under the county also provides the opportunity to apply for grant funds, which Weber said would go toward creating a treatment court.

Treatment courts are specialized systems for non-violent substance abuse offenders. The court merges human services and law enforcement to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders who are only in jail due to their addiction.

There are currently 35 adult drug courts across Wisconsin. The federal Department of Justice supports data saying drug courts reduce recidivism by up to 26 percent and reduces taxpayer costs by more than $6,000 for each participant.

Weber said he hopes to see overnight treatment facilities, commonly known as halfway houses, in the area to help coordinate rehabilitation services.

“Courts don’t administer the treatment, they just monitor it,” Weber said.

The county board, with two supervisors absent, unanimously approved the resolution establishing the council. The council itself would have no policy-making authority, and members of the council would not be paid for their service. But individual members of the council could apply the policies discussed with the council in their jobs.

In other county news:

  • The board authorized Phase III of the Cana Island restoration project, which will include construction of a new interpretive center, storage facilities and a final assessment on costs to restore the lighthouse keeper’s building. The county has set aside $540,000 for the project, including $75,000 from the Cana Island Preservation Reserve Fund, $365,000 from the unassigned fund balance and $100,000 that was already set aside in the capital improvement budget. The county expects the funds will be repaid within four years. County Administrator Ken Pabich said construction of the new interpretive center would likely start in the second half of this year with a goal to open to the public by the summer of 2019.
  • The board also approved $27,000 for repairs to the breakwater at George K. Pinney County Park. The funds include a $2,637 grant from the Department of Natural Resources and the remainder was transferred from the boat launch fee account. “This park is really utilized year-round,” said supervisor Linda Wait, who represents the district the park is located in. “It is a real asset to our county and we should do all we can to keep it in good condition.”

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