By Joe Bachman
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Wood County has joined other state counties in how arrests for drunk drivers are managed in order to stay fiscally consistent and free up jail space.
“Several months ago, we looked at our policies for initial arrests on drunk driving cases, and that we were going to allow a responsible person to sign them out on the first through the third offenses,” said Sheriff Thomas Reichert. “The fourth offense is when it becomes a felony, and then we will lock people up.”
A policy decision put into effect in April of this year, it seeks to clear up jail space, and cut costs for jailing first through third time OWI offenders. It’s a policy followed by such neighboring counties as Marathon, Adams, and other municipalities across Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, drunk driving is not considered a felony until the fourth offense — first and second offenses are considered a traffic violation, with the third being a class A misdemeanor that carries fines up to $2,000.
The standard policy of jailing a drunk driver up for 12 hours, otherwise known as the “drunk tank”, still comes at a cost to the taxpayers to house them. This has led to many other counties, including Wood County, to opt to release the person into the hands of a sober, responsible driver instead of jailing them, if applicable.
Often, first-offense drunk drivers taken into custody can be sent to Waupaca County if Wood County Jail is at full capacity. With state laws limiting how offenders can be housed with other inmates currently serving time, the move will likely save taxpayer money, while leading to a less-crowded jail.
“It’s about being congruent with neighboring counties, and freeing up a little jail space,” said Reichert. “It doesn’t have anything to do with setting some kind of social statement on drunk driving.”