PORTAGE (WKOW) -- Certain drunk drivers summoned to the Columbia County Courthouse will have a new option for justice this year.
"It's a terrible problem, and I think we need to have a little bit more out of the box thinking," Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Alan White says.
That thinking has turned into an OWI court. Those eligible could see less jail time, in exchange for more participation in treatment.
"We have higher rates of OWI arrests and higher rates of binge drinking than the rest of the state and the nation, so I think it's something that has been a need for us for a long time," Columbia County Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard tells 27 News.
Data cited in the county's grant application for the court shows Columbia County ranked 12th among Wisconsin's 72 counties in alcohol-related arrests. From 2012 to 2013, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office says 466 people were booked for OWI related offenses.
"These people come back out into society, do we want them coming out and maybe a little more knowledgeable about their problem and able to control that or do we just want them to come out and drink and drive again?" Judge White asks.
The months of planning took cooperation from different Columbia County agencies that will be involved in the court. They also reviewed how other OWI courts are already working.
Judge White says their OWI court criteria is the same as in Dane County, it has to be the person's 3rd OWI offense and they have to have a blood alcohol content of .20 or higher.
"In the past, we've relied on out-of-county resources to be able to offer to those folks, but with the OWI court, we would be offering intensive groups and weekly therapy sessions and more case management for folks right here in the county," Woodard says.
Judge White he says he knows they can't help everybody, but he hopes to give it to those who want to change and opt into the court system. He thinks 15 to 20 offenders in Columbia County will be eligible each year. He hopes to see the first person go through OWI court this February.
The county applied for a $136,000 grant through the state to help fund the OWI court. They learned last week it was approved, but don't yet know if they will get the full amount.
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