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County Executive Offers Progress Report on Comprehensive Initiative Tackling Alcohol Abuse

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Topf Wells, 266-9069

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8/13/2009

Issued By: County Executive
View only releases from County Executive
More Drunk Drivers Arrested, More Offenders Rehabilitated and Staying Crime Free, Success Seen with Middle School Kids in First Six Months of Falk Initiative

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today offered a status report on the first six months of work done as part of her comprehensive initiative targeting the problems associated with the over-consumption of alcohol in the county.

Those efforts, launched with funding Falk included in the 2009 county budget, include substantial over-time hours on Friday and Saturday nights for extra patrols by sheriff’s deputies to target drunk drivers, expansion of a ground-breaking county program to rehabilitate alcohol offenders, a pilot program to work with middle school students who use alcohol and their families, and creation of a first-of-its-kind countywide coalition to advocate for policy and cultural changes needed to confront the problem of alcohol abuse.

“Through the first half of the year we took more dangerous drunk drivers off our roads, helped more offenders sober up and get their lives back on track, and for the first time worked one-on-one with middle school kids using alcohol to help them steer clear of alcohol,” County Executive Falk said.

Through the first half of the year, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office made 634 drunk driving arrests. Targeted drunk driving patrols Falk funded for the sheriff’s department on Friday and Saturday nights combined with enforcement grant dollars Sheriff Dave Mahoney secured from the state and federal governments have provided for high levels of enforcement.

“A strong education program on the consequences of drunk driving, combined with enforcement of Operating While Intoxicated laws, will raise awareness of this problem and keep our roads safer,” Sheriff Mahoney said.

In addition to the extra enforcement, Falk’s alcohol initiative also means a ground-breaking treatment program initiated by Falk in Dane County five years ago to help rehabilitate criminal offenders received $50,000 more in the 2009 County budget to treat more people. The funding increase has resulted in a 30% increase in the number of people the “Pathfinders” program is able to help. “Pathfinders” is on pace to help 72 people get their lives back on track in 2009.
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“By getting at alcohol addiction, the root cause for why people are driving drunk and committing crimes while intoxicated, Pathfinders helps these people stay out of trouble, get jobs and settle in stable housing,” Falk said. She noted that over the past five years of the program, county taxpayers saved about $1.3-million in jail bed costs while providing treatment that helps the individuals avoid future alcohol abuse. Almost 80% of the participants who completed the program haven’t re-offended.

Falk's alcohol initiative also funded first-of-its-kind work with Dane County middle school students and their families affected by alcohol abuse. Work with this pilot project has been done at Sennett Middle School in Madison and River Bluff Middle School in Stoughton by a group called "Project HUGS." Their successful efforts have included intervening with a teenage girl whose home and school life had been adversely affected by repeated alcohol use. She had become involved with criminal and gang activity, drug use, and unprotected sexual activity. After hands-on, intensive work from “Project HUGS” staff, the girl isn’t drinking or using drugs, has made new friends, and hasn’t participated in criminal activity. Family relationships have improved dramatically with program help.

Falk’s initiative also created and funded the Dane County Coalition to Reduce Alcohol Abuse, a grassroots, citizen-driven coalition that works to address the many challenges of alcohol overconsumption in our communities. In just a few short months, the coalition successfully organized hundreds of advocates representing law enforcement, health, business, churches, education, and civic leaders.

In addition to holding a series of large informational meetings, launching a website, and building an e-mail database of more than 350 people to help organize efforts, the coalition has developed a number of work groups to target specific concerns like downtown Madison alcohol issues and changing state alcohol policies. These efforts have helped stop the promotion of binge drinking behaviors and bring together hundreds of people to lobby lawmakers on increasing the state’s beer tax. The coalition assisted with bringing together a “community dinner” in McFarland where more than 100 citizens shared ideas on confronting alcohol abuse and is working with a number of other local coalitions in Dane County to support their efforts.

Tonight (Thursday August 13th) the coalition is hosting a public forum with Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee to learn more about an internet-based program for middle school students that could one day be used throughout Dane County schools to help interactively educate kids on the dangers of drinking. On September 9, the coalition is hosting an informational breakfast on fetal alcohol syndrome; while FAS is the most preventable cause of birth defects, Wisconsin leads the nation in FAS birth defects.

“Despite the magnitude of the problem, we’ve seen progress in countering this problem that makes our neighborhoods and roads less safe, tears our families apart, and causes so much human and economic hurt,” Falk said. “Working together we can make a difference, we can change our culture, and we can stop the unnecessary problems brought about by drinking too much.”

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