(Stevens Point, Wis.)–The Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP) has released the following statement in support of recently proposed legislation (Assembly Bill 815), which would expand on current Treatment and Diversion (TAD) funding to include mental health diagnosis and allow funding for mental health courts. The statement from President Kimberly Kitzberger and acting President-elect Emily Nolan-Plutchak reads as follows:
“Chair Schraa and members,
“Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on Assembly Bill (AB) 815. The Wisconsin Association or Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP) is Wisconsin’s only professional organization for training and advocacy on behalf of the nearly 100 treatment courts statewide including mental health courts. Our multidisciplinary membership is comprised of over 700 criminal justice stakeholders and treatment providers from across the state. WATCP also sits on the TAD subcommittee for the statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
“In April, WATCP was able to moderate a listening session for over 100 legislators, staff and members of the community to express the importance continued support for the TAD program. During this presentation, we emphasized the success of treatment courts measured in terms of a reductions in recidivism (10-27%) and savings to the criminal justice system ($4 saved for every dollar invested) We emphasized how these programs save lives, restore families and strengthen communities. Finally, we lauded the considerable legislative support TAD has received over the last 15 years.
“Because of TAD, treatment courts have enjoyed tremendous growth. Wisconsin has seen the benefits of 86 TAD funded programs located in 53 counties/3 tribes; an eight-fold increase since TAD was enacted. The requirement however that participants in TAD funded programming “abuse alcohol or other drugs” limits the growth of other similarly effective programs like mental health courts. Participants in mental health courts often present with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders, but not always. In turn, these programs are ineligible to receive TAD funding.
“Studies have shown a variety of benefits for mental health court participants and the community including reductions in recidivism, incarceration, substance abuse and increased participation in treatment services and enhanced independent functioning. [i] Wisconsin however has only 6 mental health courts statewide. Much like drug treatment courts pre-TAD, their ability to assist with the criminal justice system’s most challenging offenders is limited by small numbers and inadequate treatment resources.
“Mental illness among justice involved persons is concerning. Data provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance reveals that as many as 16% of incarcerated persons suffer from serious mental illness; 4-8 times the general population. Wisconsin is no different. Department of Corrections data reveals that over 40% of state inmates are diagnosed with serious mental illness. [ii]
“AB 815 will allow counties to enhance existing mental health court programs and build new ones. It will give counties a valuable tool to address a significant concern in our justice system. WATCP appreciates the efforts of the bill authors to bring this bill before the committee and looks forward to its passage.”