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Committee recommends allowing violent offenders in treatment courts

By: Eric Heisig//September 18, 2014

Committee recommends allowing violent offenders in treatment courts

By: Eric Heisig//September 18, 2014

A committee tasked with making recommendations on how to improve Wisconsin’s treatment courts system voted Wednesday that programs should allow certain violent offenders to participate.

The committee — made up of legislators, judges, attorneys and victims’ advocates — approved the provision 6-3.

If ultimately written into a bill and passed into law, the provision would allow defendants who are facing a violent crime charge to be eligible to participate in a treatment court program, several variations of which exist in Wisconsin. Currently none of the programs in state allow violent offenders.

Under the provision, the definition of a violent offender would include those charged with: an offense during which the person carried, possessed or used a dangerous weapon; an offense during which the person used force against another person; as a result of the person’s offense, a person died or suffered serious bodily harm; or a serious sex offense. For the purposes of treatment, according to the provision, a person with a prior violent conviction would not be considered a violent offender.

The provision would leave a lot of discretion in the hands of the counties, as an individual program or county could choose whether to accept violent offenders. The committee’s vice-chair, state Rep. Evan Goyke, D- Milwaukee, said if Waukesha County, for example, does not want to admit violent offenders, it does not have to, even if its neighbor Milwaukee County chose to.

“It’s hard because this becomes a tough political question,” Goyke said. “If we want to treat the highest-risk, highest-need population, it should not matter how they are referred to the justice system.”

The committee, which is tasked with reviewing treatment and alternative courts and how they work, plans to meet again next month, though a date has not been set. At that time, it is expected to vote on its final recommendations to pass on to the Joint Legislative Council.  The council can then chose whether to accept the recommendations and put forth a bill during the next session, which begins in January.

The committee’s chairman, outgoing state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, did not return a phone call left Thursday.

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 specialized treatment.

Of the many ideas the committee is considering, the violent offender provision has received the most attention, both through presentations from outside groups and debate among committee members.

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