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Judges ask for money for drug services

St. Croix County's three judges aren't ready for a full-fledged drug court, but they are proposing the county budget up to $250,000 to implement segments next year.

The County Board's Finance Committee voted last week to endorse the concept of funding a transition to drug court by providing additional services. No cost was included in that endorsement.

Drug court involves intense judicial supervision of people who are on probation for drug violations. The supervision includes frequent, often weekly, court appearances.

Judge Eric Lundell said he and his associates don't want to fully implement a drug court until the county gets a fourth judge, "Because then we will have the available resources to do it right."

In the meantime, he said, the judges support sentencing alternatives and "beefed up" treatment for addicts.

Other counties - including Pierce, La Crosse and Eau Claire - have already created drug courts, but it's too late in the cycle for St. Croix to apply for federal grants.

A committee of the three judges, the district attorney, the sheriff, three members of the Human Services Department, two County Board members, a parole officer and a public defender is asking for funding to hire a "tracker" to monitor drug offenders who are on probation to make sure they comply with treatment. The committee is also asking for funding for drug tests for indigent people and money to provide treatment programs in the jail.

Human Services Department workers estimate it will cost $160,000 to hire, train and equip a drug court coordinator and a drug abuse counselor.

Committee members plan to meet yet this month with a facilitator, who they hope will educate them on the concept of drug court and requirements for federal funding and advise them on how best to create the program.

"We want to do it right is the bottom line," said Judge Scott Needham. The idea, he said, is to try to get into the federal grant cycle as the program is developed.

"But that doesn't minimize or lessen the need," said Needham. Seventy percent of county jail inmates are serving sentences related to methamphetamine, he said.

"They're simply being warehoused," said Needham.

"Obviously the problem is occurring now, so we have to do something," agreed Lundell.

The first step, said Judge Edward Vlack, would be to track people on probation to make sure they are going to treatment and not using drugs.