The Continued Expansion of Treatment Courts in Wisconsin

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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Evidence-Based Decision Making: The Increasing Use of Research in our Criminal Justice System

There is a growing trend in the criminal justice field to integrate evidence-based decision making, or EBDM, into local justice systems.  At its simplest, EBDM can be described as the practice of using what has been proven to work.  It places the primary reliance upon current and sound research, rather than upon anecdotal information, guesswork, or solely the experience of an individual.  While the use of evidence-based decision making is relatively new to the field of criminal justice, the healthcare industry has embraced EBDM for sometime.
The promise of evidence-based decision making is that it produces more consistent and better outcomes, as confirmed by the underlying research.  In the criminal justice system, the benefits include the implementation of policies and practices that meet the goals of maximizing public safety, reducing the risk of reoffending, more appropriate allocation of limited resources, and reducing costs.

Wisconsin is at the forefront of the trend towards the introduction of EBDM into its criminal justice systems.  

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The Legacy of Gideon v. Wainwright in Wisconsin

I’d like to take the opportunity through my posts this month to talk about some of the trends and milestones that I see in the field of law, particularly as it pertains to our criminal justice system.

Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, started with a handwritten petition from Clarence Gideon. The decision in Gideon set the country’s criminal justice system on a different course: defendants who could not afford legal counsel had the right be be provided with such representation.

Although the scope of the constitutional right to counsel was established with the Gideon decision, the responsibility and the details of its implementation were left to the individual states. In the early years following the decision, Wisconsin complied with the requirement through a county-by-county system. This county-based approach changed in 1977 when Wisconsin took the strategic step of adopting a statewide model of indigent defense, establishing the Office of the State Public Defender (SPD) as an independent, executive-branch state agency. SPD trial offices started to open across the state, and the appellate representation, previously overseen by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was transferred to the agency. The SPD ensures that our state meets the constitutional requirements set forth in Gideon.

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