Investing in addiction and mental health treatment, instead of prison, for nonviolent offenders would likely lower crime, strengthen communities, and save Wisconsin millions of dollars annually, says a new study from a coalition pushing to expand Wisconsin’s drug courts and other alternatives-to-prison programs, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A health-impact assessment by the California-based Human Impact Partners recommends the state increase funding for its existing treatment alternative programs from about $1 million to $75 million annually, expand eligibility, and add $20 million for mental health treatment, jobs programs and other, related services.
“There’s every reason in the world to see that alternatives to incarceration work, especially for people whose primary issue is addiction or a mental health issue,” said David Liners of the faith-based advocacy group WISDOM, whose 11-by-15 Campaign for Justice aims to cut the state’s prison population in half to 11,000 by 2015. “We’re never going to solve health issues with criminal justice solutions,” he said. Reform measures have historically been a tough sell in Wisconsin, where the legislature passed the truth-in-sentencing law in 1999 and last year rescinded a program that released prisoners early for good behavior or health reasons. Still, Gov. Scott Walker said the payoff from such programs for adult inmates can take time but is worth exploring.