LAC DU FLAMBEAU
- In Vilas County the courts have a new option for treating drug and alcohol offenders, instead of putting them behind bars.
Today the new Wellness Court was named in Lac du Flambeau. Circuit court judge Neal Neilsen and Tribal Court Judge Gary Smith will work together to help those involved with drugs and alcohol get the treatment they need.
"A traditional court would, more than likely sentence the person to jail or prison, and we've seen studies where that just doesn't work anymore. We need to get creative," said Lac du Flambeau Tribal Chief Judge, Gary Smith.
Judge Nielsen will sentence the offenders in his Vilas county courthouse, but, if they’re eligible he’ll put that sentence on hold and send them to Wellness Court instead to be sentenced to a custom treatment program.
Judge Nielsen says this program helps keep families together, and saves money spent on repeat offenders.
"Now we can say with some confidence that for every dollar investment in a Wellness Court you'll get $1.50 to $2 of savings back out," said Judge Neal Nielsen of the Vilas County Circuit Court, recounting the expense of arresting offenders, jailing them, taking them to trial, etc.
Aside from those quantifiable expenses, he and Tribal Judge Smith say the biggest savings come in terms of returning members of the community to health and productivity and improving the lives of family members.
“There’s such a high proportion of Native people sitting in jail as a result of alcohol or drug abuse, which is an addiction. And that’s a disease. And it’s one that can be treated,” said Kenneth Ninham, a psychologist with the Lac du Flambeau Family Resource Center.
The Lac du Flambeau Wellness Court is modeled after another Ojibwe Wellness Court that's been successful in Northwestern Minnesota.
|Story By: Kailey Burton
|Photo By: Kailey Burton