Protecting the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens must in all cases remain the very highest priority of government. Therefore, when thinking of criminal justice system reform, I first think about theimpact on victims.
Often times, the voices of those most seriously harmed are not always the ones most prevalently heard in our courtrooms. During a listening session years ago at the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay, a woman once related to me how she testified against her perpetrator — an intensely personal experience — because she was told that he would be punished for his crime, that he would serve his time, and that she and other potential victims would be safer. She was not aware that he would soon be released and back on the streets due to a shortened sentence.
Years ago, I authored legislation that required certainty in sentencing so victims like the woman I met in Green Bay can know how long the man who attacked her will be behind bars — whether it is two or 20 years. As a victim, she deserves to be a part of that process and she deserves to have the peace of mind of knowing how long he will be in prison.
With this in mind, we are pushing reforms at the front end of the process to create opportunities that impede paths to incarceration. We want a safe and sound system.
Every Friday afternoon, when most courts across America are winding down and putting the finishing touches on all of the items on their busy weekly calendars, some courtrooms bustle with activity. In a family drug treatment court in Milwaukee where substance abuse problems lead to the break-up of families, the judge pointedly addresses each addict’s weekly progress. In Green Bay, Appleton, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Janesville, and Racine, special veterans’ courts fashion an informed response to the unique trauma presented by those who have served our country in combat.
Joining many states across the nation, Wisconsin has continued the approach of “problem-solving courts” in an effort to address tough issues presented by alcohol and drug addiction, domestic abuse, and mental illness. No longer do offenders see their judge for only one sentencing hearing. Now, they must return. Back in front of their sentencing judge, offenders face the type of scrutiny that only “eye to eye” accountability affords. Successful outcomes for participants mean lower incarceration rates and potential cost savings for taxpayers.
Created in 2012, the Wisconsin Statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has assisted in directing, coordinating, and collaborating with statewide and local governmental and non- governmental partners to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and public safety. Innovative problem-solving courts are one of the many topics on our docket.6 Building a strong, efficient criminal justice system improves public safety, saves taxpayer dollars, and ensures justice for all victims.
Proactively identifying and targeting barriers that prevent people from moving from government dependence to true independence and personal success have set the contours of our approach. We want every citizen empowered to take charge of his or her life. With true independence, people become educated, obtain gainful employment, provide for their families, find stability and success — and yes, avoid prison.
Heroin use creates a different kind of prison. Heroin does not discriminate. Regardless of gender, age, race, income, or zip code, heroin entangles its victims and their families in a dangerous web of devastation. In 2012, an escalating trend of heroin abuse in Wisconsin led to a drastic rise in overdose deaths by nearly 50 percent. Swift action was needed to protect our friends, family members, and neighbors from this insidious drug because our communities lacked the armor to combat this deadly addiction.
In 2014, I signed into law a package called “H.O.P.E.,” which stands for Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education.8 H.O.P.E. invests in Wisconsin communities. It comprehensively changes how we contend with heroin by implementing the twin principles of support and accountability. To prevent deaths due to overdose, H.O.P.E. equips law enforcement officers and first responders with additional tools to more effectively combat opiate abuse, including access to life-saving medicines, and encourages addicts to seek emergency care for fellow drug users. H.O.P.E. also supports addicts with treatment alternatives, especially in underfunded, yet high- need, rural areas of our state. Accountability-wise, H.O.P.E. creates swift and certain sanctions to respond to probation violations instead of automatic incarceration. And finally, H.O.P.E. calls upon medical professionals to demand identification for certain prescriptions. H.O.P.E. lays the foundation for reversing the dangerous trend of heroin addiction.
It is important to take action — to take the critical steps to reduce drug abuse. Earlier this year, we noted that more than 72,000 job openings had been posted on our state website. We need people prepared to fill these jobs.10 Business owners tell me often that they have positions available — they just need responsible individuals who can reliably show up for work and pass a drug test.
As part of my plan to help fill those jobs, I proposed a strategy for Wisconsin that will allow drug testing at critical junctures.This provides an opportunity for intervention at the earliest possible stages and for treatment as well as job training for those suffering from drug addiction. Rather than leaving citizens on the path to self- destruction through drug use while taxing our law enforcement and court system, we can do the opposite. We can address these issues head-on and get people ready for work.
Back in 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice developed a set of “key components” for drug treatment courts by a committee of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, including such important measures as: forging collaborative partnerships, integrating treatment services with effective judicial oversight, and monitoring abstinence through frequent randomized alcohol and drug testing.
Drug testing is not a new concept. It is a common sense policy. Take, for instance, some high-demand fields and manufacturing jobs, where sobriety is unquestionably necessary for the operation of technical equipment and heavy machinery. Workplace safety requires the imposition of drug testing for employees.
Our goal is to help open the door for more people to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that comes from having a great job and doing it well. While some, on the other side of the aisle in the Wisconsin Capitol, have said that drug testing makes it harder to get assistance, we say it makes it easier to get a job and helps people live full and meaningful lives. And that job provides many benefits to society as a whole. We have worked to address drug addiction issues without necessitating mass incarceration.
Our message of straightforward government reform resonates with Americans across the country because reform has but one goal: effecting positive change. Positive change also comes with the implementation of new and effective technology to make our streets safer from violence. Effective, efficient, and accountable government is the floor, not the ceiling. We must move forward with greater expectations working to improve the prosperity of our neighborhoods, so more people contribute and care for themselves and for others. It is our choice to lead. We must answer the call.
We can increase the public safety by continuing our efforts. Since I took office as Governor of the state of Wisconsin, employment has reached a record high with fewer people suffering from unemployment. Today, in Wisconsin, more students are graduating and state budgets are based on the public’s ability to pay and not government’s hunger to spend. We have done all this in the hope that we can decrease government dependence, discourage criminal behavior, and put power back into the hands of the citizens.