This coming Wednesday night, at the May 15th County Board meeting, two items that I have been pushing will come up for a vote. The first is a resolution by the County Board asking the state legislature and Governor Walker to accept the enhanced Medicaid funds being offered by the federal government. These funds will increase access to BadgerCare and provide people on the edge of poverty with basic health care insurance. The resolution was approved last month by the county’s Human Services Committee. I believe this is an important issue for the county, and I discussed my reasons in an opinion piece in the Green Bay Press-Gazette recently, which I also posted here on this web site if you’d like to read more: Wisconsin should accept federal Medicaid funding.
The second item deals with asking the County Executive to increase funding in the county’s 2014 budget for our community’s Drug Court, and to provide funds to start a Mental Health Court. This request was also passed at the April Human Services Committee meeting and is now going to the full County Board for its approval. At that meeting, I will also be adding increased funding for the current Veterans’ Court. For those folks who are unfamiliar with these efforts, the Drug, Veterans’, and proposed Mental Health Courts deal with people involved in a non-violent crime. They are required to go through a rigorous program that provides access to treatment (drug, alcohol, mental health services, etc.), reporting on a regular basis to the court on their progress, and taking steps to turn their lives around. In the case of the Veterans’ Court, it provides the person with a mentor who is also a veteran. The Drug Court has already had folks “graduate” from the program who have put their lives back together.
Courts of these types are found around the state, and they provide an important alternative to incarceration. Right now, Wisconsin has 23,000 inmates – more than doubled from 1995 (around 11,000). The average annual cost to keep an inmate in prison is $32,000, and we, the tax payers of this state, spend more on prisons than for the University of Wisconsin system. 90% of inmates will return to society, so it’s important that they receive treatment and support so they do not become repeat offenders. Drug courts are six times more successful rehabilitating inmates than prison programs, and they’re less expensive.
With alternative and diversion programs like the Drug, Veterans’, and proposed-Mental Health Courts, we can lower the cost to taxpayer, increase the number of people recovering their lives, and improve public safety, because people are not reoffending. It’s a win-win-win, which is why I believe the county needs to increase its funding for these diversion programs in its 2014 budget and why I hope the County Board will vote to support that idea.