JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Drunk driving has become an epidemic in Wisconsin, and it's not uncommon to see people arrested several times for it. It's those repeat offenders who have authorities worried, but Rock County is taking action, investing $100,000 in rehabilitating some repeat offenders rather than punishing them.
It's called OWI Treatment Court. A drunk driver who qualifies will be found guilty of their crime in court, then they'll commit to participating in the 18-month rehab program. The offender will be closely monitored and treated for addiction for a fee of $75 a month. In exchange for their promise to get sober, they'll serve less jail time and pay a smaller fee than they would in criminal court.
But OWI court isn't for everyone. The plan targets only three-time offenders, because they are the ones statistically most likely to repeat.
Judge Alan Bates will preside over the OWI Court. Bates says this treatment method is a more effective way of getting drunk drivers off the roads.
"Increasing the fines, increasing the jail terms don't stop the cycle of behavior of people who are addicted to alcohol," Bates says. "We [will] hopefully change the behavior, the thought process and the physical and mental health of the people who come through our program."
OWI court isn't new -- Dane County launched one in 2011, and other counties throughout the nation are taking the rehabilitation approach to stopping drunk driving.
In Rock County, there are other criteria a defendant must meet to participate. The offender must be a Rock County resident charged as an adult, willing to comply with the OWI Court program rules, found to be dependent on alcohol after screenings and assessments, and the offender must have no history of violence or felony convictions.
Bates says a challenge will be finding those repeat offenders who are willing to make a change in their lives, and making sure they take the program seriously, not using it as an easy way out of tougher punishment.
"Yes, they probably are going to be thinking that on day one, it's our job by 'day 18-month' to convince them that was the wrong attitude," Bates says.
Rock County will fund the program for the first 18 months. Bates says future funding will be allocated if the program proves to be successful. Many different agencies are involved in making the program happen, including the probation department, public defenders, the district attorney's office and local law enforcement.
The court is expected to hold its first session on Tuesday.
Wisconsin has comparatively lax laws against drunk driving than other states. For instance, it's the only state where the first OWI offense is not even a crime, but a traffic citation. Wisconsin is also one of just 12 states that doesn't allow law enforcement to conduct OWI checkpoints, which are considered to be an effective deterrent to drunk driving.
For more information on the Rock County OWI Treatment Court Program, contact case manager Travis Kropf with Rock Valley Community Programs at 608-757-6407.
JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- The Rock County court system will launch a new OWI court in the next few weeks, aimed at getting drunk drivers off the roads.
Judge Alan Bates will preside over the OWI court, which will begin by accepting third-offense OWI cases. The goal is to provide the treatment these offenders need to stop drinking and driving, rather than the current focus on harsh punishment.
Offenders will see shorter jail time and smaller fines, along with rehabilitation and treatment for addiction to alcohol or other drugs.
Tonight on 27 News at 10, Jennifer Kliese will share more details and what court officials hope to see come out of the program.
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