LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - During Viterbo University's virtual town hall on Monday, officials from Monroe County explained how drug treatment courts can help community members struggling with addiction.
Instead of being sent to jail, experts said Monroe County's drug treatment court allows those convicted of possessing drugs to complete a five-phase program instead.
Using evidence-based practices, experts aim to change participants lives, helping them end their addiction, locate housing, find jobs, and restore broken relationships.
Officials explained the program's initial steps are intense as participants receive supervision, incentives, and even sanctions. However, as residents continue to make progress, they begin to gain independence and eventually show they can do it on their own.
According to Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Richard Radcliffe, treatment courts like this one are the single most effective tool in the justice system.
"The majority of people that go through and complete the program, a large part of them are successful and most of them don't reoffend," said Radcliffe.
Radcliffe pointed out data shows treatment court participants are 37 percent less likely to test positive for illicit substances.
To qualify for the program, officials said offenders must be considered a high risk or high need individual. Additionally, the program does not accept violent offenders or anyone convicted of dealing drugs.
According to officials, Monroe County's program currently has a 52 percent acceptance rate. Radcliffe said participants are just like any other community member, with most being adults that have already received an education.
"These individuals that we're helping are just like all of your neighbors. They may have a substance abuse disorder but they're generally good people," said Judge Radcliffe.
Currently, the program has 13 active participants. Those running the program hope to have a graduate soon, as the program is still relatively new and has only been operating for a little over one year.
Recent statistics show more than 20 million Americans have a substance abuse order. Judge Radcliffe stated this directly affects the justice system, with as many as 90 percent of all property theft crimes being drug-related.
Additionally, this problem has recently began to heavily effect the region. Monroe County data shows a 400 percent increase in the number of drug charges from 2011 to 2018, with 41 percent of new cases being repeat offenders.
Radcliffe believes drug treatment courts not only help end addiction and make the community safer, but also end up saving the community money.
According to Radcliffe, for every dollar invested, treatment courts return an average of 4 to 12 times that investment, helping to reduce crime, incarceration, and the overall cost of justice system services.
Radcliffe said it takes a village to put on programs like these and the department is open to any help or support community members can provide.