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As the opioid epidemic continues unabated throughout Wisconsin, Juneau County is gaining a new weapon in the fight against addiction: a drug court.

Juneau County Judge Stacy Smith announced Oct. 1 that the Juneau County Adult Drug Court was awarded $500,000 from the United States Department of Justice for a new drug court. The grant is for a four-year period.

“This grant provides life saving assistance to our county’s citizens and is a necessary investment in our community,” Smith said in a press release. “We now can offer hope to the hopeless, our sons and daughters who have struggled with addiction for years. We pray that this will help extinguish the revolving door of jail that addiction creates. This drug court will give people the opportunity to turn their lives around, which will lead to more productive taxpayers and a safer Juneau County for all.”

Officials on the Juneau County Adult Drug Court team have worked to establish the court for over a year, with Smith joining after his election in April. Smith previously helped to establish an OWI court and drug court in Vernon County.

Team members on the Juneau County Adult Drug Court include Smith, Juneau County District Attorney Kenneth Hamm, Probation/Parole Agent Krista Hoepner, representing the Juneau County Sheriff’s Office: Capt. Gary Pedersen and Capt. Colleen Beier, Juneau County Board Member Tim Cottingham, the State Public Defender Office, Attorney Jennifer Cunha from the Department of Human Services: Director of Human Services Dawn Buchholz, Deputy Director JoAnn Geiger, Clinical Therapist Brooke Schluter, and Substance Abuse Counselor Lynne Jindrick.

Juneau County will join neighbors Jackson, Wood, Adams, and Columbia Counties in having a dedicated drug treatment court. Sauk and Adams County also have hybrid OWI/drug courts.

According to Smith, the drug court will “provide treatment and other supportive services to nonviolent drug offenders with substance abuse issues.” Participants in the program will go through a five-phase program involving random drug testing, group and individual counseling, and frequent court review hearings.

“We want high-risk, high-need people,” Smith said. “We have to understand that people relapse, but you can’t kick them out the first time they have a mistake in the program… we want the program to be easy to get into and hard to get out of.”

To enter the program, an individual must first be arrested. The District Attorney’s office will then screen possible candidates, and make referrals to the court.

Smith says the program for each participant will last about 14 months. During their time in the program, participants must maintain sobriety and not have any other criminal convictions. The court will start with about five participants, and Smith says they can expand to a maximum of 15 participants.

The drug court will begin operations in January 2020.

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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