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More money, standardized system under consideration for state’s treatment courts

A legislative committee tasked with looking at the Wisconsin’s treatment and alternative courts is ready to start considering recommendations for the Legislature.

Lead by state Reps. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, the committee’s ultimate goal is to recommend ways to improve the courts and their recidivism rates, be it through additional money, personnel or guidelines.

The committee has met twice this summer, hearing from treatment providers, court administrators and judges about what has and has not worked in the state’s various specialty courts. Several people have testified about the need for a central set of standards and ways to monitor a court’s progress, which varies widely from county to county.

This week’s meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Capitol, will be the first time the committee has talked about whether to recommend any changes to the Joint Legislative Council when the next Legislature reconvenes in January.

According to a memo (PDF) attributed to Wisconsin Legislative Council Deputy Director Laura Rose, the committee has several options if it wants to recommend changes to treatment and mental health courts.

One of them is to allow certain violent offenders to participate in treatment programs, which several groups advocated for at a meeting in July. Per state law, specialized court programs that qualify for Treatment Alternatives and Diversion grants cannot take in violent offenders.

Other possible recommendations include, according to the memo:

  • allowing judges to order a defendant to be on electronic monitoring as a condition of their probation;
  • creating a position with the Director of State Courts’ office to help counties start treatment courts;
  • expanding money that would go toward TAD programs; and
  • creating a standard system to collect and track data from treatment programs.

According to the memo, 25 counties do not have treatment courts. The idea behind treatment courts is to save money in the long run, as those who go through the programs are supposed to be better able to reintegrate into society as they are offered specialty treatment.

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