Smiling child

DRW Applauds Criminal Justice Reforms in State Budget

Disability Rights Wisconsin (DRW) expressed its appreciation and support for the criminal justice measures included in the budget bill approved by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, noting that these measures will have a substantial positive impact on the lives of Wisconsin citizens with disabilities. Many of these actions are based on recommendations developed through a collaboration between the Council of State Governments’ Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) and a WI Legislative Council Study Committee.

Lynn Breedlove, DRW Executive Director, said that these measures represented “an exercise of tremendous vision and leadership on the part of the elected officials and citizens who were involved in the process – including Governor Doyle, Chief Justice Abrahamson and former Assembly Speaker Huebsch, who joined together to seek JRI’s assistance for Wisconsin; the members of the Legislative Council Study Committee; the Joint Legislative Council, where legislators from both parties supported the recommendations; and the members of Joint Finance who supported the Corrections Motion authored by Representative Pocan and Senator Taylor.”

DRW noted that the proposals combined the JRI recommendations with a complementary set of proposals from the Governor. These proposals are premised on proven principles of risk reduction, as demonstrated in the other states that, by implementing JRI’s data-driven, evidence-based strategies, have experienced dramatic improvements in public safety and significant reductions in their corrections spending. Similarly, the JRI recommendations for Wisconsin are projected to result in a 25 % reduction in recidivism rates and will prevent a 21% increase in Wisconsin’s prison population over the next 10 years, thereby averting $ 2.5 billion in additional corrections spending.

“People with disabilities have a direct stake in criminal justice system issues – first, because they are far too often the victims of crimes – including assaults, domestic violence, and sexual abuse; and second, because dramatic increases in corrections spending, which has doubled over the past ten years, threaten the funding for the services and supports needed by people with disabilities. The results of these reforms, fewer crimes and the savings of $ 2.5 billion in corrections spending, will improve the lives of people with disabilities,” said Todd Winstrom, DRW Staff Attorney for Corrections.

The proposals also included measures intended to improve the effectiveness of DOC’s response to inmates with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. For example, JRI’s recommendations included the allocation of $ 8 million over the course of the biennium to prevent recidivism by providing community based mental health care for individuals with serious mental illness being
released from prison. Other proposals, developed in response to the recent Legislative Audit on Inmate Mental Health included:

▪ Creating a pilot Community Reintegration Program for inmates with serious mental illness, based on a model proven to improve public safety by reducing recidivism while actually saving money by preventing costly reincarcerations.

▪ Providing the additional resources necessary to continue improving mental health care at Taycheedah, as required to prevent further legal action by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

▪ Ending the practice of officer delivery of medications at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, as required by a federal court order.

▪ Requiring DOC to begin planning for ending officer delivery of medications at all of its other facilities.

▪ Requiring DOC to begin planning for improved screening and service delivery for inmates with developmental disabilities.

Winstrom identified these proposals as “crucial first steps in making sure that DOC provides appropriate treatment and support to inmates with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities,” but pointed to the “essential next steps, such as fully funding the JRI Reinvestment recommendations for reducing revocations, improving mental health services for male inmates with serious mental illnesses, and expanding the pilot Community Reintegration Program.”

In summarizing DRW’s reaction to the Criminal Justice Reforms in the state budget, Executive Director Breedlove said that the members of Joint Finance “capitalized on an unprecedented opportunity to achieve a critical policy goal, improved public safety, through responsible stewardship of the state’s resources in this time of fiscal crisis.”