EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Changes in the justice system could mean thousands out of prison and into treatment.
Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes are coming to scale back sentences for some drug related crimes favoring treatment programs and community service.
Holder said some of the changes include scaling back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes and diversion of low-level offenders to drug treatment and community service.
The changes could lower incarceration rates, saving millions in taxpayer dollars.
After years in treatment and drug court, Michael Gumulauskas said he stopped using drugs and alcohol. The former inmate, addict and alcoholic said jail or prison without treatment for drug addictions doesn't address the problem.
“In prison, you learn to be violent, and you learn to get a way around things, you don't learn to be a man and face your problems,” Gumulauskas said. “Today, we send people to prison for getting caught with meth. You get caught, you go to prison. So we don't get to the root, we don't get to why they did that, we don't get to the actual trigger.”
He said he's now sober, working for the Valleybrook Church in Eau Claire, and serving as a mentor to others. He said the attorney general's effort to reduce harsh, non-violent sentences to stop prison over-crowding is a huge step in the right direction.
“The average cost of treatment is $12,000 to $15,000 compared to $33,000 incarcerated person. So just math alone, it makes sense.” “The fathers are already being taken from their children, so it's a recurring cycle, the recidivism rate.”
Brenda Goettl is a clinical supervisor with the L.E. Phillips Libertas Treatment Center in Chippewa Falls. She and Gumalauskas said early intervention can stop the prison system from being a revolving door.
“Sitting in jail or prison isn't very helpful. What we certainly know is that when people are struggling with addiction, they need an intervention of some sort,” Goettl said.
“The bottom line is you can throw addicts into prison and you can throw them into jail, but if you're not treating the disease, what are we doing?”
Gumulauskas, who also works with the JONAH group, said diversion programs like drug court have been very successful in reducing repeat offenses in Eau Claire County and he hopes other counties will do the same.