(WATCP) – More funding and program expansion is needed for Wisconsin’s Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program, according to the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP).
The proposed increase in funding was made during a bipartisan online listening session held for a mixed group of state legislators and criminal-justice stakeholders on May 7, 2021. The presentation, co-hosted by WATCP, Republican State Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, and Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke, included an overview of the TAD program’s role helping fund county-level treatment courts throughout the state, as well as providing training and standards for those treatment-court teams to follow. Speakers included three treatment-court graduates who each shared a compelling story about how treatment courts helped change their lives and re-unite their families.
Treatment courts have grown in popularity across the United States and Wisconsin as a means of helping criminal offenders who are at a high risk of reoffending, often due to mental health or substance abuse concerns. The goal is to help each offender avoid lengthy incarceration, take accountability for his or her crimes, achieve sobriety, and become a productive member of society. Doing so requires funding for staff, resources and training for each treatment court team, as well as support for that team at the state level. However, outcomes for such programming make treatment courts a worthwhile investment, according to WATCP Past-President, J.C. Moore.
“When you compare participants with drug offenses that complete drug court versus individuals that leave the state prison system, there is a ten percent difference in recidivism. And with respect to property offenses, there’s a 21 percent improvement,” says Moore. “[Treatment courts] also save money. The most recent TAD report indicates that for every dollar invested in treatment courts, there is a return of $4.17. And those are very conservative numbers. When you look at other estimates done on the national level, for every dollar invested up to $27 in savings is realized.”
The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) TAD program launched in 2007 with a modest $700,000 budget to train and help fund seven programs statewide. By 2014, that number had jumped to 38 across Wisconsin (including 35 counties and 3 tribes) with a budget of $4 million. As of 2020, those numbers had once again skyrocketed to 86 programs with a $7.2 million budget. Staffing at the state level has remained relatively stagnant, however, with two current full-time data analysts and two program managers who today provide training and supplemental funding to nearly 100 courts statewide.
WATCP has asked legislators for three additional TAD staff to meet current programming needs, and two more to be added over the next biennium. In addition, WATCP has requested $15 million for TAD program expansion, much of which would directly benefit county-level programs.
“Within my own family I’ve had a front row seat to the challenges of addiction,” said Rep. Zimmerman. “…I’m going to do everything I can to see this great progress continue.”
In his presentation to legislators, Moore also indicated the need for statutory changes such as eliminating the need for local courts to match TAD funds in order to receive them, something that is difficult for some rural counties, and especially tribes. Moore also indicated the need to remove the substance-abuse requirement for mental-health and hybrid courts, revise the competitive process to apply for TAD funds, and align TAD funding with the state budget cycle.
“Treatment courts are one of our state’s most successful tools to assist persons in the criminal justice system struggling with addiction and mental health issues,” added Moore. “WATCP is working with representatives Zimmerman and Goyke to address legislation which will promote these tools. On behalf of WATCP and it’s nearly 700 members who work in these courts every day, we are hopeful that this legislation will receive bipartisan support.”