Recidivism rates and La Crosse County's drug court: Is program w - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Recidivism rates and La Crosse County's drug court: Is program working?

LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- La Crosse County's drug court has taken in 135 participants since its creation in 2001, with 58 of those participants successfully graduating and 77 of them failing to finish. 

There are an additional 23 people currently enrolled in the program. 

But graduating from drug court, a minimum year-long program requiring intense treatment therapy, community service and frequent appearances before a judge, among other tasks, is not a guarantee of a drug-free future. 

Police allege Damien Mracek, a 31-year old arrested last month in connection with a fatal hit and run accident in May, is an example of a graduate falling by the wayside of recidivism. 

Mracek completed the program in 2009 but police said he had been using drugs before the crash in May. 

Mracek is accused of crossing over the center line of a Bangor roadway in his pickup truck and hitting 75-year old Darrell Skolos's vehicle head on. 

Skolos eventually died in the hospital. 

According to UW-La Crosse sociology professor Bill Zollweg, who has overseen two studies on the county's drug court, the rate of recidivism among graduates is 20 percent -- with recidivism defined as a felony arrest. 

When the threshold is set at a misdemeanor arrest, the recidivism rate increases slightly to 36 percent. 

Both are well below the national, average rate of recidivism for drug-related offenders who are incarcerated and eventually released -- which Zollweg said is 85 percent. 

Zollweg added calculating recidivism is difficult because of the aforementioned different definitions available. 

For instance, many drug courts do not require an arrest be drug-related to qualify as an instance of recidivism. 

"Let's say a drunk driver goes through La Crosse's OWI treatment court. If they go through treatment, finish and then are arrested for domestic disturbance, is that recidivism?" Zollweg said. 

"I don't think so," he added. 

Zollweg said recidivism is simply a reality when dealing with drug users. 

"When you're dealing with drug offenders, you are dealing with a very special, medical problem," Zollweg said. "You can't just punish people and ask them to stop a compulsive drug addiction." 

Jane Klekamp, La Crosse County's director of justice sanctions, said the court knowingly accepts high-risk offenders who are more susceptible to recidivism. 

"A lower-risk person may not re-offend without anyone's intervention," Klekamp said. "So we don't want to spend all the energy that we should be putting into moderate or high-risk people" to treat low-risk offenders. 

Klekamp said the county refuses to do that just in an effort to "reduce recidivism." 
"It takes someone a long time to graduate from drug court," she said. "By the time they graduate they have really jumped through a lot of hoops." 

"So after that it's up to each person how and what they're going to do with their life," Klekamp said. 
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