A new study on the benefits of prison diversion programs predicts the state could close down a prison if it invests $75 million in programs that provide treatment instead of prison for drug addicted and mentally ill offenders.
The study carried out by WISDOM, a statewide coalition of faith groups crunches the numbers on six years of data from treatment and diversion programs in seven counties. The results show treatment courts for drug addicted and mentally ill offenders coupled with community supervision reduce recidivism and cost much less than sending these offenders to prison. The report is getting strong support from Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm whose county is responsible for sending the majority of the state's offenders into the prison system, "We've experimented, we've tried, we've used evidence based programming and guess what it works, and it cost effective and the ultimate output is that we're going to reduce the number of people in our prison system and keep our communities safer."
The new study claims that expanding the current prison diversion programs now in place to all counties will cut prison admissions by more 3,000. But WISDOM statewide director David Liners says to accomplish that the legislature will have to increase the current $1 million a year devoted to treatment programs to $75 million, "The way to really reduce the cost of the state prison system is to reduce the population enough so that we can close a facility. You actually get a much better return by doing this in a relatively big way."
Gov. Walker hasn't mentioned boosting spending on prison diversion programs as one of his budget priorities but Liners says WISDOM leaders hope to convince state legislators to take up their cause when the budget debate begins in earnest early next year.