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Outagamie Co. studies program to prevent repeat OWIs

Inside Outagamie County Jail (WLUK/Mike Moon)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- A new study shows a program that's trying to prevent repeat OWI offenses may be working in Outagamie County.

The program substitutes treatment, for jail time.

The Safe Streets Treatment Options Program, or SSTOP, has been in effect in Outagamie County since 2011.

"Instead of sitting in a jail cell they're going to treatment, they're seeing a case manager," explained Bernie Vetrone the director of the county's criminal justice treatment services.

SSTOP is a year-long regimen of treatment and is for 2nd or 3rd OWI offenders who are approved by a judge.

The county found out right away the program saves money. It costs taxpayers $50 a day to keep one person in the county jail.

"This program is $1.35 per day. So it's very cost effective," Vetrone told FOX 11 News.

More important, is what the county didn't know.

"What we thought we knew was that it was good at reducing recidivism, but we didn't have any concrete studies," Vetrone told us.

The county partnered with a UW-Milwaukee criminologist on a year-long study to find out. She spoke to the county board Tuesday.

"We compared the SSTOP participants to a control group of participants. We actually found that the program reduced OWIs by 31%," explained Tina Freiburger, who is the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice for UW-Milwaukee.

The study looked at 346 SSTOP participants from 2012 and 2013 versus 346 offenders from 2009 and 2010, before the program started. The research encompassed three years out from their first convictions.

"We also found that they had fewer convictions overall, in addition to OWIs, as well as were sentenced to fewer days in jail," Freiburger told FOX 11.

According to the study, the SSTOP group had 36% fewer convictions than the comparison group and 22% fewer new incarcerations.

Vetrone told us even though the study was wide-ranging, he says SSTOP is a relatively young program. So they'll have to continue doing studies on it in the future to ensure it's beneficial.

"So in the future we hope to expand this to two, three, four years down the road," he said.

Winnebago and Waupaca Counties have similar programs. Winnebago was the first.

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