March 24, 2009 – Letter to the Editor, Waukesha County Freeman
Corrections costs have increased by more than 400 percent in 18 years, and the reason is simple. Rather than attempting to curtail the drug and alcohol abuse that often leads to crime, Wisconsin taxpayers have chosen to warehouse people. Once behind bars, nine out of 10 offenders needing drug and alcohol treatment don’t get it.
Of course, thousands of Wisconsin families suffer tortuously every year after losing loved ones to drunken drivers. Businesses struggle with the lost productivity of addicted employees. The addicted themselves live lives of constant physical and psychological illness.
A relatively new state fund, called the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion Fund, provides funding to develop and implement alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders with drug or alcohol problems. Counties receiving TAD funds form stakeholder oversight committees to develop comprehensive and holistic approaches for treating eligible offenders.
Unfortunately, funding for TAD is inexcusably low, and TAD-funded programs are operated in only seven of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Waukesha County is not one of them - yet. Additional funds of approximately $20 million are needed in the upcoming biennium to provide TAD with minimally adequate resources. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee can accomplish this through an amendment to the proposed biennial budget. Waukesha County voters should insist on it.
I know that times are tough, and that funding TAD properly is not going to eliminate Wisconsin’s drug-related crime problem overnight. We’ve dug ourselves a very deep hole on all budget issues, including those for corrections. But when you’re in a deep hole, the first thing you should do is to stop digging.