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Tuesday

July 2014

29

LC court considers alternative sentencing

Drug/alcohol abuse program receives court committee support

Village of Oconomowoc Lake - Lake Country Municipal Court officials are exploring the feasibility of using a locally created drug and alcohol abuse prevention program as an alternative sentencing option for teenagers and juveniles convicted of underage drinking or minor drug offenses.

Representatives of Your Choice - Live outlined the details of the program to the court's operations subcommittee meeting at the Oconomowoc Lake Village Hall last week.

Fines and possibly other penalties associated with convictions of underage drinking or minor drug offenses might be reduced if the offender successfully completes a 12-hour addiction education and counseling program provided by Your Choice - Live, a Hartland-based nonprofit drug and alcohol abuse prevention organization.

The program would also require parents of the offenders to participate in a three-hour family education and counseling program, according to Sandi Lybert, program coordinator for Your Choice - Live.

Committee Chairman Don Wiemer, of the Village of Oconomowoc Lake, said the program appeared to have the potential to provide the court and parents with alcohol and drug abuse prevention alternatives "other than a parent just cutting a check to the pay the fine."

The four members of the committee are all police chiefs and oversee day-to-day operations of the court. The four police chiefs and Judge Timothy Kay discussed a wide range of sentencing options that might be available to offenders and prosecutors if they agree to pay $150 to enroll and successfully complete the program.

Kay expressed concerns about allowing first offenders to take advantage of the program because the sentencing alternative could include erasing the conviction from an offender's record.

"If they go out and do it again, and they are cited for underage drinking, I want the police officer to know that it is their second offense," he said.

But Summit Police Chief James Race suggested that a first offense might be a good time to implement the program. Race told the committee he knew of incidents in which underage drinking tickets were issued to 13- and 14-year-olds.

"Maybe the first offense is a good because you can catch them earlier. On the other hand, maybe they have hit to rock bottom before they can be helped," he said.

"I like the fact that the program requires involvement of the parents," added Hartland Police Chief Robert Rosch.

The committee agreed with Rosch's request that the police chiefs of the communities served by the county be asked to attend the subcommittee's Feb. 14 meeting.

Oconomowoc Public Service Director Dave Beguhn said after the meeting that if enough of the communities support the plan, the subcommittee is likely to make a recommendation later this year to the Administration Committee.

However, Wiemer emphasized the final decision is Kay's. "He's driving the bus," Wiemer concluded.

Although Kay could implement the program without their approval, he told the committee that he wanted to give elected officials and the municipal prosecutors an opportunity to evaluate and comment on the program.

Kay indicated he wanted to learn more about Your Choice - Live before a final decision is reached.

Court Clerk Pam Struck and Deputy Clerk Theresa Berlin advised the committee there are administrative issues that will have to be resolved if the program is implemented.

For example, the parents of offenders younger than 17 who are convicted of underage drinking or minor drug charges will have to give the court permission to release information about the offenders to Your Choice - Live since the offenders are juveniles and their identification and other personal information is protected by state confidentiality laws.

Kay had also discussed the possibility of waiving the driver's license suspension of a youngster convicted of underage drinking who successfully completes the Your Choice - Live program, but Berlin advised him that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation automatically issues the drivers license suspensions. "And DOT always trumps us on that," she added.

Lybert told the committee Your Choice - Live will assume as many of the administrative responsibilities for the program as state and local laws will allow. She said Your Choice - Live would be responsible for notifying the court when an offender completes the program or fails to complete the program.

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