For low level drug offenders, incarceration is not always the best or right answer.
In 2006, when Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm took office, there were deep and wide racial disparities in Wisconsin’s prison system, especially when drug offenses were the case. A study by Human Rights Watch showed that Blacks were 42 times more likely to face jail time for non-violent drug offenses than whites.
Looking for ways to address this head on, Chisholm knew that a multi-level approach was best. He would need to look at some cases of criminal drug offenses as a health issue because drug addiction is a medical issue.
Under Gov. Doyle’s administration in 2008, Chisholm was one member of a four-person Racial Disparities Oversight Commission which was tasked with implementing ways to decrease the racial disparities among Wisconsin’s prison population.
Chisholm used a multi-agency approach to solve this problem, joining government agencies, the judiciary and private organizations, which discovered that a drug treatment court would be a good option so that those at the judiciary level could work with medical experts and drug offenders to offer treatment instead of jail to some offenders.
Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court was officially established in 2009, and has an 80% success rate for its participants.
“There wouldn’t be a drug court in Milwaukee without John Chisholm,” Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said. “I’ve represented individuals struggling with addiction that participated in Milwaukee’s Drug Treatment Court and I’ve seen the program save lives. I’ve seen treatment literally save lives.”
“We know these treatment programs are effective in so many ways.
Through this intensive 12-month program, we are reuniting families, reducing recidivism and maintaining public safety with so many community partners who are on the front lines working with participants,” Chisholm said.
Milwaukee County’s Drug Treatment court is used as a national model for other prosecutors who are looking for innovative ways to treat non-violent drug offenders for underlying issues, while maintaining a tough-on-crime approach.
The program’s coordinator, Carol Carlson told Fox 6 News in 2014 that the program saves tax-payer dollars. “One year in prison is approximately $33,000. Our program is 12-18 months and our average cost is $10,000.”
The program’s participants are held to high standards and rigorous drug testing and meetings. “They (participants) have to show that they are ready and can do this, they have to demonstrate to multiple personnel working with them that they are willing to make a positive change in their lives,” Chisholm said.
“Through treatment, we can end the cycle of addiction, which also means repairing family relationships and increasing workforce participation, which reduces the likelihood of someone reoffending.
Reducing recidivism reduces crime. By breaking the cycle of addition, Milwaukee’s Drug Treatment Court has made our community safer,” Rep. Goyke added.