In the last 10 years, Langlade County has gone from having zero possession of methamphetamine cases filed in the criminal court, in 2010 and 2011, through a steady increase until today, when 18.2% of referrals to the District Attorney’s Office include at least one count of possession of meth.

As that number has grown, each year at least 20% of the individuals referred for possession of methamphetamine have little to no prior experience with the criminal justice system. It is likely that these individuals, if assessed, would be deemed to be “low-risk, high-need,” given that they have not had the various interventions that individuals with lengthy criminal records have had, such as periods of incarceration and treatment programs through probation.

Soon, Langlade County may have a new approach to getting these individuals away from meth and back to living productive, law-abiding lives, as District Attorney Elizabeth Gebert and Director of the County Department of Health and Social Services Ron Barger work to implement a new program especially for these individuals.

In collaboration with partners on the Treatment Alternative and Diversion Team (TAD), Langlade County hopes to expand the response to the meth crisis. The new program would provide swift and much needed treatment to this particular group of drug offenders. It is the hope that with grant funding, the Pre-Trial Drug Treatment (PTDT) Program can launch in early 2021.

Barger and Gebert have worked together to apply for grant funding for the PTDT through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The grant application included letters of support from 13 agency partners, including Judge John Rhode, Sheriff Mark Westen, the Public Defender’s Office, community partners and local employers. The Wisconsin DHS hopes to announce grant recipients by Oct. 31.

The PTDT Program will provide drug treatment and other supporting services to individuals with a substance use disorder who have at least one felony drug charge pending against them and who have a limited prior criminal record.

The county hopes to have a drug treatment court in a few years, and the Pre-Trial Drug Treatment Program would work in tandem with such a program. A drug court would

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likely target high risk, high need individuals with a substance use disorder, who have extensive experience in the criminal justice system, a lengthy prior criminal record, and would likely be avoiding a prison sentence by participation in, and successful completion of, the drug treatment court program.

The Pre-Trial Drug Treatment Program would also address individuals with a substance use disorder, with the distinction being that these individuals would be low-risk, high-need. Participants would have limited prior criminal justice system experience, a limited prior criminal record, and would likely avoid a period of incarceration in the county jail as a result of participating in and successfully completing the program.

These low-risk individuals were convicted of felony offenses at a rate ranging from 47% to 100% of the time in the years spanning 2016 to 2020 (as of today). Gebert believes that the PTDT program is a more appropriate way to address this population, without continuing to utilize the services offered through probation and parole.

“During these challenging times, it is important to efficiently and appropriately use criminal justice system resources,” Gebert said. “The county jail, which was designed to have sufficient space to house inmates for other counties, and generate revenue for the county, has experienced increased incarceration rates due to methamphetamine, at times disqualifying Langlade County from housing out-of-county inmates, and requiring one of the Huber/Work Release dorms as overflow housing for female inmates.”

Women in the low risk category have been referred at almost the same rate and often a higher rate than men, year for year. These individuals, many of whom had never spent a night in jail, have accounted for 3,332 days of pre-trial incarceration. The PTDT program would get individuals out of the jail and into treatment within weeks or even days of their arrest.

Currently, these individuals go through the conventional court process and the general practice is to convict them of the felony drug charge and place them on probation. Of note in the current process is the lack of support, supervision, or diversion that provides a sufficient level of services to address addiction to methamphetamine and/or opiates.

Langlade County does not have a bond monitoring program and currently does not have electronic monitoring or random urinalysis available for testing individuals who are on bond. Felony probation provides the highest level of potential treatment and services, which is often what is necessary for these individuals to regain their sobriety.

The PTDT would give low-risk, high-need individuals a more intensive level of services, commencing within days of their being arrested and charged. This quick turnaround would increase the likelihood that these individuals would be able to achieve and maintain their sobriety for a lengthy period of time.

Barger especially looks forward to utilizing this program to get parents into treatment quickly, and hopefully returning children to their homes faster. With out-of-home placement costs for children increasing annually, this program should help with getting those costs under control.

Gebert is excited to implement this program, saying, “it would accomplish the goals of the criminal justice system, specifically to reduce the likelihood of re-offending and address treatment needs, in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner with the added benefit that participants would have an easier time re-entering the work force without the stigma of a felony conviction.”

Through discussions with colleagues in other counties around the state, Gebert discovered that there are similar programs in the state, but none that take a pre-trial, intensive treatment approach.

“It makes sense to address low-risk, high-need offenders early in the court process, since early treatment gives a person the greatest chance of beating their drug addiction,” she said. “And if program participants can maintain their sobriety and return to being law-abiding, working members of our community, that will be a big benefit for all of us.”