Winnebago County Judge Scott Woldt, as told to Leo Costello

Leo Costello

Leo Costello, FIXED Writer

“I started [working as a judge] in January of 2004 and I quickly learned that the majority of the people that came in front of me were here with drug and alcohol-related issues, so I knew there was a problem with drugs and alcohol. Before I became a judge, you think it is [a problem], but you really don’t know how prevalent it is in our society. Our sheriff and I got together and we were brainstorming about what we could do to try to help this problem, and we started talking about drug court.” – Scott Woldt, Winnebago County Judge, Circuit Court Branch II

“The thought is drug court is being soft on crime, and it’s not soft on crime — it’s smart on crime. Judges typically motivate people by, ‘I’m telling you not to do this, and if you do this, you’re going to go to jail.’ It’s a punishment.

“We’ve found out from doing that for hundreds of years — it doesn’t really work. Jail did not motivate any of them. A guy said to me today, one of the graduates, Nick, ‘I can do four months in jail standing on my head. It’s easy.’ So if someone’s going to use, and you want to throw them in jail, you’re giving them a free vacation.

“We’re trying to do positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement. These people are motivated by things such as family, occupation — it can be a little thing. I started giving people Tootsie Pops. When I would give them to people, I would hold them so they would look back at me. And just the eye contact, showing someone that you care for them as opposed to wanting to throw them in jail, makes an impact on people.”

Judge Scott Woldt talks to Nicolas, a Drug Court graduate on the day of graduation.

Scott Woldt co-founded the Winnebago County Safe Streets Drug Court Program in 2006 to help alleviate drug issues in the county. His arms are tattooed, wrists to shoulders, of images that have inspired him to be a judge. Woldt has been a judge for the Winnebago County Circuit Court since 2004. All interviews took place in fall 2019.

(For those struggling with addiction and seeking help, dial 2-1-1 or visit to be connected to resources and services in your community. You can also text your zip code to 898211. 2-1-1 is a 24/7 confidential service that will connect you to substance abuse treatment and resources free of charge.)

Editor’s note: All interviews took place in fall 2019