MARINETTE — The Marinette County Drug Court  is filled to capacity with 20 participants and is about to reach a milestone, Judge James Morrison, who presides over it, told fellow members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee on Friday.

“In September, it will be five years that we have had participants,” he said. “We worked on it for about year and half and then met at the Law Enforcement Center for a week. We had our first participant in September of 2014.”

Morrison said to observe the milestone “we’re going to do something significant (on Sept. 23) and have some sort of event to mark that because that’s pretty significant.”

“It’s a big deal and we’re really proud of it,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of success and we’ve had failure.”

The judge said without the Drug Court, seven or eight babies would likely have been born to drug-addicted mothers instead of completely drug free.

“We’ve had 20 graduates and we are now at capacity and really cannot put more people in,” Morrison said. “We have one person who has been approved and we’re waiting for a treatment slot to open up.”

He said the reason the program is filled to capacity is that it is “incredibly intense” and requires a lot of effort from its coordinator, Sara Plansky-Pecor, and members of the drug court team.

“Everybody is doing their very best,” Morrison said. “We have two people that are in the exit phase. We have quite a few in phase one. By and large, it’s a highly successful program. Failures are going to always exist.”

He said the rate of failures in the Drug Court are substantially lower than the rates of failure of people staying sober and out of crime after coming out of jail or prison.

Morrison said when he was at the parade in Marinette last Sunday, he was approached by a graduate of the Drug Court who had his son with him.

“I asked his son ‘are you proud of your dad?’ and he said ‘yeah, he’s sober now,’” he said. “That makes it worth it.”

The judge emphasized that a key component of the Drug Court being successful is help from members of the program’s alumni group.

“We have found that alumni group members are so helpful,” he said. “When we have people who have chronic problems, we say you’re going to talk to one of the alumni and come back and tell us what you learned. We have some really great people in the alumni group with great success stories. They can say ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that.’”

Child Support Director Sue Hinch asked if there are many of the alumni who are willing to mentor current participants.

“Many of the alumni have been extremely willing to mentor, whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or alumni event, they get together to do productive things,” Morrison said. “We have a cast of heroes there as far as I’m concerned.”

“When they do this mentoring thing, there is an authentic credibility that goes with that and it seems to be very effective,” said Sheriff Jerry Sauve, a member of the committee.

“The thing I want to emphasize is that everybody in the Drug Court, with the exception of people in the first couple weeks, are working fulltime and in jobs where they get a W2 and pay taxes,” Morrison said. “For many of them, that’s the first time they have ever done that. It changes the trajectory of life for a lot of these people, it gives them a whole different attitude.”

“It’s really worth the effort  and it’s a big effort,” he added. “We have great Drug Court team; they’ve worked tirelessly.”

“We’ve got 20 in Drug Court, six in Mental Health Court and 10 on Soberlink,” said Jail Administrator Bob Majewski, committee chairperson. “If all these people were in custody we would be at about 160 people (in the county jail) and then we’d be talking about a new pod and more officers. Not only are these programs good for the population they serve, they’re also good for the taxpayers.”