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Criminal Justice Discusses Prevention/Treatment Issues

For several years, the scourge of heroin has been wreaking havoc on Marinette County. A substantial percentage of inmates at the Marinette County jail are there because of it. At the Friday, May 10 meeting of the County's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, Jail Administrator Bob Majewski reported that 37.5 percent of convicted felons in the jail are there because of felony heroin possession. Another 18.7 percent of inmates are there for other felony drug possession.

One of the ways that some in the county are trying to stem the tide is to bring in speakers like Chris Herren, a former NBA player, who addressed the students at Marinette High School on May 10, and spoke to the community on Saturday, May 11. Prevention/education is key to keeping young people from experimenting with this highly addictive drug.

Another weakness that has been identified is the lack of adequate post-prison treatment programs to keep heroin users from falling back into using the drug. For many heroin addicts, staying clean while in the prison system is easy because they are in such a controlled environment. Once they get out, the natural habit is to fall back into the same old way of thinking and acting, and back in with the same old group of drug using friends.

What is lacking in a Marinette County is treatment center to offer that support/counseling once the addict is released from prison.

Bobbi Christopherson, from Probation and Parole, reported that Dane County has an opiate treatment clinic. She is looking into the possibility of starting something similar in Marinette county. Robin Elsner, Director of the Marinette County Health and Human Services Department, added the alcohol and drug treatment services offered through the Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) divisions do have similar philosophies of treatment. This, then, led into a discussion of maybe aiming from a day-treatment check-in center of some type.

In a related matter, the Committee discussed the lack of places for a person who is jobless and homeless to go when they get out of jail. Jail Program Director Officer Ellen Hanneman noted that it's a problem in Marinette County because there is just so little housing for such people. She added there are temporary things out there, but not much for helping people find permanent housing and/or rent support.

The need is there in the community, but the unanswered questions remain: How does a half-way house get started and from where does the funding come. By way of sharing justice system information, Sheriff Jerry Sauve noted the week was the National Correctional Officers week.

Judge Jim Morrison reported he is working on arrangements with the Veterans Court of Northeast Wisconsin to possibly hear cases from Marinette County that may apply. One of the current drawbacks of submitting a case to that court is that the County is severely lacking in local mentors to work with the vets after sentencing. County Administrator Ellen Sorensen added that finding local mentors is key to the program's success.

Majewski reported that jail population is still high. The month of April saw an average of 137 in-house, with three out on electronic monitoring. The electronic monitoring does keep people out of the jail population while they are awaiting trial. A downside is monitoring the program takes up a great deal of time for the Huber coordinator. Majewski noted some people make it while out on electronic monitoring, others don't and have to be picked back up.

A new electronic monitoring unit offered by the manufacturer is starting to be used. The unit is smaller, but more powerful, including the capability of constant GPS location.

The hikes in daily population have been slow and steady for most of the years since the new jail opened in 2004. The last year has seen large increases in jail population. Majewski went onto say these near-capacity populations have placed more stress on the Correctional Staff and more incidents are happening because of the close quarters.

Sauve stated recently there were several inmates released early to create some room, but the space was quickly filled up within a week.

Two major concerns were specifically discussed. The first is the four to eight weeks it takes to get what is called a Pre Sentencing Investigation. This delay causes inmates found guilty or who plead “no contest” to spend up to two months more time in the County Jail instead of being shipped off to the state system.

A second area of concern was lamenting about possible legislative changes that will cause more problems for County Jails than they solve.

District Attorney Allen Brey added changes to drug and alcohol laws since 1999 and the “Truth in Sentencing” laws have contributed some to the jail population. With the rise of drug and alcohol related cases in the county, Brey noted his office is swamped and pressed to the max. His point was that with more help in the DA's office, he could process cases more quickly and thus help lower jail population.

Hanneman reported since the beginning of the year, 21 inmates completed their GED requirements with 21 completions from all of 2012. Hanneman also noted in jail-programs for male and for female inmates will begin this week. Several inmates will also work at Peshtigo's Badger Park and with Habitat for Humanity on their new house. ISome inmates will also get the opportunity to clean up some of the area highways after Memorial Day.

The Committee also discussed a possible workshop on the “Culture of Poverty.” Marinette High School is working on it, too. Both Sorensen and Public Defender Bradley Schraven said they may have found possible speakers.

An example given on how the different approach to priorities in the poverty culture affects people was “Do I pay my light bill this month, or do I get another tattoo.” For those not within that culture, the choice is clear.

It was viewed as being helpful for everyone involved in criminal justice attend this workshop so they can better understand the culture in which this segment lives and operates.

At the beginning of the meeting, Sorensen reported the agenda for the April meeting had not been posted correctly, as pointed out to her by the press. As a result some of the agenda items were repeated on this month's agenda.


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