EAU CLAIRE, Wisc. (WEAU) - Prison overcrowding is a growing problem in the state, but one group is trying to change things, for the better.
The 11 by 15 campaign is being pushed by pastors in the Chippewa Valley and throughout the state.
It promotes outside treatment programs for lower level offenders in hopes of cutting current state prison population of about 22,000, down to 11,000 by 2015.
Michael Gumulauskas of Eau Claire spent more than six years in jails and prisons for drug and alcohol-related crimes.
The former addict was given a chance to get out of jail through a drug treatment program.
"I met with a counselor ... had daily breathalyzers and (drug tests), Gumulauskas said.
After relapsing, Gumulauskas said he finally applied what he learned in treatment to be a better father, and a better person.
"The program taught me how to love myself and once you get that, it's hard not to want to give back," he said.
Clean and sober, Gumulauskas said he's self-employed, attends UW Eau Claire and mentors others.
He, along with area pastors from Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope (JONAH) organization in the Chippewa Valley, part of the WISDOM organization throughout the state, are hoping more inmates can benefit from expanding similar programs with the 11 by 15 campaign.
"Rather than spending $30,000 a year incarcerating a non-violent offender in state prison, we would be spending $10,000 a year investing in their recovery, which would not only save that money, but allows them to be contributing citizens in the state, Paul Oppedahl, Our Saviour's Lutheran Church of Chippewa Falls said.
"It's a way to hold them accountable and give them the tools they require to be better citizens," JONAH lead organizer John Stedman said.
Gumulauskas and local JONAH members said they met with legislators Friday to support the non-partisan 11 by 15 campaign.
"There's a proven record of success, we just have to improve the scale," Stedman said.
"Give them the proper tools to grow up, to learn that there's a better life, it'll make our community safer in the long run," Gumulauskas said.
Group leaders said inmates who go through treatment are three times less likely to reoffend than those who don't get treated.