The Continued Expansion of Treatment Courts in Wisconsin

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Gavel and BenchWisconsin was an early adopter of problem-solving, or treatment, courts. Starting with Dane County’s Drug Court Treatment Program in June 1996, Wisconsin is now home to 56 operating treatment courts according to the Wisconsin Court System website. In addition to treatment courts that address drug addiction, our state also has treatment courts that focus on alcohol, mental health, veterans, and tribal wellness. Some are hybrid, or co-occurring disorders, courts. While most courts are operated by one county for cases arising in that county, we are starting to see regional courts that address offenders from multiple counties.

Treatment courts, as the name suggests, treat or solve an issue while still holding the offender accountable for his or her criminal activities. Removing an offender’s addiction, for instance, decreases the likelihood that the person will reoffend in order to “feed” his or her addiction. Successful treatment can lead to a reduction in crime and recidivism while restoring an individual to have a greater opportunity to be a valuable member of the community.

One of the drivers behind the proliferation of treatment courts is the proven outcomes they are able to produce. In fact, according to a UW Population Health Institute study of treatment alternatives and diversion programs, communities received a $1.93 return on each $1.00 invested in these programs.

The treatment court model relies on a team-based approach in order to oversee and assist the individual to treat his or her addictions. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation agents, law enforcement, and treatment providers all come together in a non-adversarial model to promote problem-solving responses tailored to each offender. Nationally, research shows that specific aspects of treatment courts, such as this team approach and the direct interaction between the participants and the presiding judge, help the courts achieve the goal of reducing recidivism.

The Statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals are working to create state standards for treatment courts to facilitate implementation in counties that may lack the resources to start a specialty court but that could sustain it once started.

The documented success of treatment courts makes it likely that Wisconsin will continue to see the development of new courts of this nature. The time, energy, and resources necessary to plan and operate these courts properly are a smart investment with significant benefits for individual participants, for public safety, and for taxpayers.

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