Putting a Face on Wisconsin Treatment Courts

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Category: Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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RehabilitationMy blog post several weeks ago discussed the increase in the number of treatment courts in Wisconsin (see The Continued Expansion of Treatment Courts in Wisconsin). My goal was to outline the issue from a policy standpoint. As a follow up, I would like to offer a more personal perspective on treatment courts, one that most members of the public do not have an opportunity to see: the “face” of an individual successfully completing treatment court.

One major author of each story is a dedicated and collaborative treatment court team. Although the composition of each team may vary, membership generally includes a judge and representatives from the District Attorney, State Public Defender, Department of Corrections, and local treatment provider. Depending on the court, law enforcement, human services, and others may be represented as well.

K’s Story.  Prior to court, K had been in and out of mental hospitals and jails. For the first three weeks that K was in the mental health treatment court, his odor permeated through the courtroom. He would keep his head down and would often wear sunglasses in court. He did not respond to his defense attorney. All members of the team stepped beyond their traditional roles to work together to find solutions for K’s individual needs. After four months of participation in the treatment court, he was living in a new apartment. He showers, holds his head up, and plays guitar at open-mic night. He is just finalizing the requirements for earning his GED.

T’s Story.  T came into the drug/operating while intoxicated (OWI) treatment court after being sentenced for a felony OWI 4th. He was working at a minimum-wage job and was experiencing a great deal of family stress, due in a large part to his drinking. While in treatment court, T attended his treatment sessions and even established his own AA meeting in a Wisconsin community that did not have such meetings. T’s family relationships improved, and he found a much better job. Upon completing his program through the treatment court, he has agreed to act as a mentor to other participants.

J’s Story.  J was sentenced for a drug charge and started to participate in drug treatment court. She was held accountable for her actions, and the treatment court judge asked her hard questions. The judge also recognized her struggles and supported her accomplishments. While in drug treatment court, J lost her job and her certification for her chosen career. In her own words, she started “putting one foot in front of the other, doing the work I need to do.” Embracing her recovery, J earned back her certification, found a job, and enrolled in college to further her career. As J pointed out in her own words, “the entire drug court team supported me, challenged me, and stood by me.” She recently fulfilled her treatment court program and is becoming a contributing member of the community.

These success stories represent just a few of those seen throughout Wisconsin’s treatment courts.

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2 Responses to “Putting a Face on Wisconsin Treatment Courts”

  1. Nick Zales Says:

    Great story! I think many people who commit crimes need medical treatment far more than expensive imprisonment.

  2. Kelli Thompson,

    Thank you so very much for posting this blog. My passion and future career choice is working with a treatment court. I have experience as an intern with a drug treatment court out of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. I also have attended various other treatment court sessions, graduations and staffing sessions. This experience has taught me first hand that treatment courts do work and the money that is invested in them only helps our state. Recidivism is lower, prison populations are lower and money saved on incarceration is higher.

    I have found that not everyone agrees with my opinion on this topic, but I advocate for treatment courts as much as I am able to. I have seen in my personal and professional experience how treatment courts have saved lives. Incarceration does not address the real problems and the negative ripple effects into their families is astonishing.

    I attended a JONAH meeting where four different representatives were present. Several different people from the JONAH organization spoke, along with three different drug court graduates who gave their testimonies. The representatives listened and asked questions. I recently found out that only one of those representatives actually voted for what the organization was asking for in their 11 x 15 campaign. This campaign was seeking 75 million dollars to expand treatment courts in Wisconsin, but only a very small amount was passed. It seemed that the representatives were all in favor of voting in the budget for the 75 million dollars at that time, but they were not all truthful in their words!

    I do not know what it is going to take for people to realize how important these treatment courts are and that they really do work. I know for myself I will continue to advocate and do what I can as a future social worker to make sure this issue is heard! I think sharing success stories such as the ones above are a great way to get the message out there that people’s lives do change for the better. It shows that people who may have been a danger to themselves and society are now productive members of that society!

    Thanks again for this blog! I look forward to more posts!

    -Sara Dutter

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