Columbia County Judge W. Andrew Voigt said in some court cases, whether a defendant qualifies for drug treatment court can depend on which side of the street they live on.
For example, the city of Columbus and village of Randolph both spill across the border between Dodge and Columbia counties.
To qualify for drug treatment court, defendants previously needed to reside in the county where they were convicted of drug charges. Drug treatment courts are funded by state grants, and the criteria to qualify are challenging.
“Historically, it’s so difficult, because you’re just setting those people up to fail,” Voigt said.
To address the possible inequities, criminal justice system officials from Dodge and Columbia counties agreed Tuesday to pool their drug treatment court resources.
The agreement allows Dodge County residents convicted of drug charges in Columbia County to enter a drug treatment program where they actually live.
“The opioid crisis doesn’t respect county lines,” said Bob Barrington, managing attorney for the Dodge County District Attorney’s Office. “In order to provide treatment equally, we have to cooperate with one another to make that work.”
Dodge County already has similar agreements with both Jefferson and Waushara counties. Barrington said the agreements have so far have proven successful, and he anticipates a positive connection with Columbia County, too.
The prior system of allowing only residents to receive drug treatment after facing criminal charges posed a transportation issue, Voigt said.
In cases of intoxicated driving convictions, defendants might lose their right to drive, making it hard to get to another county for treatment sessions and potentially cause them to fail the program.
Voigt said it is more effective to impose a minimal jail sentence and require defendants to undergo drug treatment to address the underlying issues that led them to legal trouble in the first place.
“It beats the tar out of throwing them in jail,” Voigt said.
The initiative to share resources won’t affect a large number of people, but Voigt said it will benefit those who need such help.
He said Columbia County’s drug treatment court has had a positive impact on the drug crisis and officials hope to compound those successes.
“Depending on how this goes, we might well be proposing more of these with our other surrounding counties,” Voigt said.