Marathon County to Implement Specialized “Drug Court” in 2018

Written by Lance Leonhard


In the near future, Marathon County will have a new tool in its fight to get residents with drug addiction problems clean and crime-free: Drug Court.

Q1. What is Drug Court and how is it different from “Regular Court”?

A1. Drug Courts take a problem-solving approach to crime, as opposed to the traditional punitive approach that we often see in our traditional justice system.

Drug Courts are based on public health principles and operate in a system where the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation staff, law enforcement, treatment providers, and the local recovery community all work together to help non-violent offenders develop the skills and confidence to address their addiction and maintain long-term sobriety.

Q2. How do Drug Courts work?

A2. While not all Drug Courts operate in exactly the same way, well-established, evidence-based Drug Court models center around the core principle of integrating effective treatment programing and enhanced monitoring and accountability. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals:

“For a minimum term of one year, participants are:

  • provided with intensive treatment and other services they require to get and stay clean and sober;
  • held accountable by the Drug Court judge for meeting their obligations to the court, society, themselves, and their families;
  • regularly and randomly tested for drug use;
  • required to appear in court frequently so that the judge may review their progress; and
  • rewarded for doing well or sanctioned when they do not live up to their obligations.”


Before a participant can graduate from the program he or she must:

  • Maintain sobriety and refrain from criminal activity for at least 1 year
  • Obtain employment
  • Maintain a sober residence
  • Build a sober support network
  • Comply with all drug court rules

Q3. What does the program cost?

A3. The short answer is that Drug Court is expensive. The more complete answer is that it is money well spent.

While Drug Court costs can vary greatly based on an individual’s specific needs and the resources available in the community, we anticipate Marathon County’s Drug Court will cost on average $9,900 per year per participant. That cost covers treatment services, case management services, temporary sober housing, and regular random drug testing. (Other Drug Court budget statistics can be found in Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger’s recently released 2018 Budget Message.)

Drug Court may be expensive, but the model has proven to be the best, most cost-effective strategy we have to address those individuals in our justice system with pervasive and persistent drug and alcohol addiction. By addressing the underlying disease of addiction, Drug Courts are able to curb undesirable, dangerous, and illegal behaviors — keeping people out of our social service systems, jails, and prisons and helping them get back into the community.

Research has proven that Drug Courts reduce drug substance abuse and long-term criminal behavior far better than our traditional justice system does.

At its core, drug court is an investment in people, and we know the return on that investment can be substantial, particularly in light of the fact that the cost of incarcerating someone in prison is over $30,000 per year!

Marathon County has been operating a specialized felony Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) Court under a Drug Court model for 7 years. Fifty-two people have graduated from the program and the successes have been nothing short of inspiring:

  • We have seen those with lifelong alcohol addiction become sober;
  • We have seen people on a clear path to long-term prison sentences return to be productive members of society;
  • We have seen participants restore relationships with their families and friends that had been decimated by behaviors driven by addiction; and
  • We have seen successful graduates continue to be active in the court by assisting new participants as they navigate the difficulties of a life of recovery.

Q4. What are Marathon County’s next steps?

A4. A team of Marathon County judges, prosecutors, probation staff, treatment personnel, and County Administration continue to build our Drug Court with the intent to begin operation in January of 2018.

Q5. Can anyone sit in on Drug Court sessions?

A5. Drug Court sessions are open to the public, similar to other adult criminal court hearings, and we invite anyone interested to come observe a Drug Court in action. Because of the nature of the information discussed in Drug Court and confidentiality laws, however, visitors will be required to meet with our Justice Programs Coordinator and sign a confidentiality agreement before attending court.

. . .

If you’d like to learn more about Marathon County’s Drug Court, please email Laura Yarie, Marathon County’s Justice Programs Coordinator.

In addition, please note that we’re always looking for volunteers to assist participants by:

  • Planning sober activities and alumni events
  • Serving as a sober sponsor or life-skills mentor
  • Coordinating overall fundraising efforts

Give some thought to how YOU can help Marathon County reduce its drug and alcohol addiction problems. Together, we can make a difference.

Lance Leonard - Marathon County Deputy AdministratorLance Leonhard

Marathon County Deputy Administrator 

Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends.  Email Lance Leonhard.

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