Pubdate: Wed, 01 Feb 2006
Source: Journal Times, The (Racine, WI)
Copyright: 2006 The Journal Times
Author: Janine Anderson
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The state of Wisconsin could save as much as $43 million annually if
it were to expand treatment offered to non-violent drug offenders,
according to a report released this week.

The Drug Policy Alliance report suggested Wisconsin is wasting tax
money incarcerating non-violent offenders instead of treating their
addictions. In addition to the millions that could be saved, the
prison population could be reduced by as many as 1,500 people, saving
prison space and delaying the need to build new prisons and jails.

The study, released Monday, is especially relevant in Racine County,
where a new jail is slated to be built within the next several years.
The County Board has approved the jail expansion and authorized the
borrowing necessary to pay for the $19 million project.

According to the study, the state's prison population has grown
five-fold in one generation, and more than doubled in the past 10
years, going from 11,000 people to nearly 23,000. In 2004 there were
nearly 3,500 drug offenders in prison statewide; 2,000 of them were in
Milwaukee County. The report says Wisconsin is not alone in sentencing
high numbers of drug offenders to prison, but that it stands out in
another way: Almost half the prisoners serving time for nonviolent
drug offenses have no prior felony record.

The debate over the expansion of the Racine County Jail brought
treatment options to the forefront for county officials. County
residents who opposed the expansion repeatedly called for more
treatment options, and a detailed review of the programs currently in

"What we know is that what we're doing doesn't work," said the Rev.
Sandra Roberts, a member of the Racine Interfaith Coalition. "The
punishment of being incarcerated might work for a while, but it
doesn't stick. If we want to stop spending so much on our jails and
prisons we have to find a better way. The statistics are clear and the
study shows it well. We need to find new ways to help people."

Judge John Jude said treatment programs are proving successful in the
juvenile court system.

"The whole philosophy of juvenile court is to try to rehabilitate in
the community instead of sending kids to corrections," Jude said.

He said adult court systems are moving toward more treatment options,
which would, as Roberts said, help reduce recidivism.

"That certainly is geared to the direction of shifting the cost of
prison incarceration to putting particular drug offenders into
treatment," Jude said. "If we are providing incentives and providing
opportunities for people to stay clean and sober, it's more likely
they're going to be more successful, to complete education, to hold
jobs. Those are all factors that tend to make people productive
citizens and stay out of the criminal justice system in the future."

Ken Hall often spoke against the jail expansion. He is a member of the
SAFER Racine Partnership, a group of local organizations that opposed
the expansion. He is currently running for a seat on the County Board.

He said the study gives the county a lot to think about.

"This is a real detailed study of the Wisconsin criminal justice
system and it looks at prison populations and why people are there and
develops a series of options, different ways those types of people
could be handled," Hall said. "The report concludes with a series of
very specific recommendations, not just for one part of the justice
system but for all areas of the justice system as areas for
improvement. There's a lot for not just Wisconsin, but also Racine
County to think about other options."

Among the options the report recommends are expanded treatment for the
mentally ill and those with addiction problems. Supervisor Diane Lange
has been a strong advocate of those programs in Racine County.

"Treatment, I think, is the only way you're going to get at reducing
recidivism," she said. If they're not treated for the physical and
mental components of addiction they'll just get back into and commit
more crimes."

Racine County is moving forward with a drug court, a separate branch
of the county's judicial system that would mandate treatment instead
of prison time for substance abusers. The program is due to start this
month, first focusing on repeat drunken driving offenders. The county
has also hired a contractor to review existing treatment programs and
other alternatives to incarceration to determine whether or not they
are effective. A report on the program is expected in March or April.
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