Investing in addiction and mental health treatment, instead of prison, for nonviolent offenders would likely lower crime, strengthen communities and save the state millions of dollars annually, according to a study released this week by a coalition pushing to expand Wisconsin’s drug courts and other alternatives-to-prison programs.
The 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.
WISDOM, which sees the state’s incarceration rates as a moral and social justice issue, commissioned the study with a $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The faith-based coalition of social justice groups is working on legislation for the 2013-’15 biennium modeled after a 1973 Minnesota law that stressed community treatment over incarceration for low-level offenders.
While there are most certainly many crimes that warrant time in prison, there are many crimes that could (in my opinion) be best addressed by addressing the underlying contributing factors for those crimes, whether those factors are chronic alcohol/drug abuse, mental health issues, anger management/domestic violence issues, etc.
While I certainly understand the appeal of being “tough on crime” for elected officials, there should never be an imbalance between punishment and rehabilitation when it comes to how we handle crime in our communities.