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Marathon Co. OWI Court in its Second Year

An alternative program is helping to prevent drunk drivers from re-offending. The Marathon County OWI Court Program has been up and running since January 2011.

The current eighteen participants are struggling with addiction, and each have been convicted of OWI between four and six times. The program reduces their jail time and fines and keeps them out of prison.

Instead, they receive intensive counseling and treatment, supervision, and support from a team of criminal justice professionals. They must attend AA meetings three times a week, and go before a judge weekly.

"They are forced to go through recovery while still living in the community and dealing with the stress of supporting yourself and paying your bills," said Laura Yarie, the county's justice system alternative coordinator.

Many spend some time behind bars while in the program, others are able to go to work or school, and do community service.

Yarie says anytime someone violates the rules they're issued immediate consequences, including jail time, but they're also rewarded for showing signs of progress.

"I think OWI court really has it right because they're looking at the person they're looking at would this person benefit from treatment versus sitting in a jail cell," said Melissa Dotter, Marathon County's Drug Free Communities program director.

She says treatment is a piece of the bigger picture.

"Until we start looking at the culture around alcohol we're really not going to be able to make long lasting change," Dotter said.

Not all offenders are eligible for the program. They must apply and show they're willing to change.


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