Milwaukee is seeking a federal grant to start a coordinated system for rapid screening of jail inmates for drug abuse, mental illness, and other factors, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The idea enjoys broad support among judges, law enforcement and other local officials. Such a system could save money in incarceration costs by weeding out those who pose little threat to the community and could be good candidates for diversion programs or release before court appearances. It costs up to $150 a day to jail someone locally.
The county would like $4.5 million in federal economic stimulus money to launch a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week screening program over two years. The grant application calls for hiring 41 employees, including a program director, intake specialists and case managers for arrestees referred to drug or other diversion programs. Milwaukee County did extensive inmate screenings for about 15 years but stopped in 2000 after a dispute over how the information was disseminated. “We didn’t realize what we had; we didn’t realize the value of it,” Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers said.