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Leaders of Vilas County criminal justice system seek board approval for first step in creating drug treatment court

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Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Martha Milanowski doesn’t have the exact numbers, but knows she sees a lot of cases involving drugs, especially methamphetamine and heroine.

“The majority of cases involve drugs,” she said.

Milanowski knew it was a prevalent issue in the county before she was appointed to the judgeship last fall.

She’s seen the success of the drug treatment court through the tribal court in Lac du Flambeau and believes it can make a difference countywide.

“I’m on that court right now. It’s a great tool. But that court is just for tribal members. It’s not available to anyone else in the criminal justice system in Vilas County. I’ve seen how it works. I think it’s a great diversion tool. I really think it’s necessary to use here when appropriate,” said Milanowski.

Drug courts are designed give support to those facing charges and are addicted to drugs. It’s a voluntary program.

A drug court was on the radar of Milanowski’s predecessor, Judge Neal Nielsen, but it wasn’t feasible with a single judge in the county.

With Daniel Overby having recently been sworn in as a second judge for Vilas County, a drug court is possible.

Now it comes down to what kind of drug treatment court would work best for the county and the logistics of setting it up and paying for it.

All that planning will be done by a Criminal Justice Collaboration Council or CJCC.

Milanowski and others have put together the group that includes county board members, law enforcement, the District Attorney, a public defender, local leaders and the Lac du Flambeau Tribal President among others.

It’s been vetted by the county’s law enforcement committee. It will go to the full board later this month to vote on whether to establish the council.

Milanowksi says the groups usefulness goes beyond establishing a treatment court.

“Ultimately what you want to do is get best management practices to reduce the rate of recidivism, so people don’t find themselves back again and again in criminal court. We want to be successful. We want to rehabilitate. We want to make our community safer,” said Milanowski. “I think by having the CJCC, everybody who’s involved in the criminal justice system can meet on a regular basis to share what they’re seeing and their ideas.”

The county board will still need to approve the drug treatment court once the council determines what kind would be the best fit for the county.

Some members of the council have already started looking into possible grants to help fund the treatment court.

Milanowski hopes to get the board approval and treatment court up and running within the next year and a half.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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