Throughout September and October 2015, local teams from counties and tribes across Wisconsin completed training designed to improve the functioning of their treatment court programs. The training received an overwhelming response from treatment court teams around the state, as over 500 attended, representing 71 out of 74 fully operational treatment courts in Wisconsin. This series of six trainings, held regionally across the state, was developed based on the Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards, and was made possible under a discretionary grant from the US Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ). This grant proposal was endorsed and supported by the State CJCC's Problem-Solving Courts Subcommittee. The trainings were coordinated by the DOJ, in collaboration with the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals (WATCP) and the Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office. The development of the Standards and the subsequent trainings represent unprecedented steps in the coordination and advancement of Wisconsin’s treatment courts and the implementation of evidence-based practices.
Wisconsin’s first problem-solving or treatment court was established when Dane County developed an adult drug court in 1996. The most commonly known problem-solving court is the drug court, but a wide range of specialized courts including OWI, mental health, and veterans’ courts, among others, have been developed to specifically address the underlying issues related to criminal behavior. These courts work across disciplines and with other institutions to deploy interventions that treat the offender while also holding them accountable for criminal actions.
In recent years, following national trends, Wisconsin has seen a rapid expansion in the number of problem-solving courts. These courts historically have developed locally, absent funding or oversight from a state coordinator or governing body. This has led to each local program being somewhat unique, and as treatment courts in Wisconsin have developed and evolved into a variety of models, they have done so without the existence of universally accepted operational standards.
In 2014, WATCP published the Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards to help set the foundation for treatment courts across Wisconsin. The core of the 17 Standards is the Ten Key Components of Effective Drug Court Operations and seven evidence-based principles published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Additional research, evaluation and lessons learned from across the nation are incorporated into the Standards, as well as aspects of the NADCP Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards, Volume I. Each of the 17 Standards outlines key areas and practice points that provide operational guidance for treatment courts supported by research and evidence-based practices.
Following publication of the Standards in 2014, the DOJ was awarded a $200,000 Adult Drug Court Discretionary Grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The goals of this grant were to improve the functioning and outcomes of Wisconsin’s treatment courts through the development and implementation of a statewide training program and to prepare Wisconsin treatment courts for statewide evaluation. The training plan was subsequently expanded to incorporate the Wisconsin Performance Measures for Adult Drug and Hybrid Courts, which were finalized in 2015 in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).
The training curriculum was designed to provide teams with comprehensive instruction on each of the 17 Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards and the Wisconsin Performance Measures. The trainings were designed to be team-based, and participants included judges, district attorneys, public defenders, Department of Corrections staff, treatment court coordinators, law enforcement representatives, treatment staff, and social workers. The two-and-a-half-day training provided focused time during breakout sessions for teams to collaborate on action plans for further integration of the material into their local practices.
While federal resources such as the National Drug Court Institute (NDCI) or the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) provide valuable training opportunities for coordinators and treatment court teams, access to these resources can be challenging without proper planning and adequate funding and the trainings often have a more general, national focus. The Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards trainings addressed these issues by bringing a locally developed, team-based training to every region in the state. In addition, the trainings were provided free of charge to participants including mileage, meals, and lodging reimbursement. In fact, the majority of the grant budget was allocated specifically for travel expenses to support local participants’ attendance.
Another advantage of holding these trainings regionally in Wisconsin is that treatment court teams were provided a unique opportunity to interact with both their team members as well as other treatment courts in their region as they reviewed each standard in the context of the current operation of their court. The trainings also provided a wealth of resource materials designed to provide treatment court teams with valuable information related to their treatment court operations and ideas for continuous improvement even after the trainings, including the development of action plans for each treatment court team. Overall feedback from the trainings has been positive, with numerous participants pointing to the value of the team-based focus in particular.
The development and delivery of the Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards Trainings reflected the true collaborative nature of the treatment court movement. The trainings were coordinated by the DOJ, working jointly with the WATCP and the Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office, with assistance from the Departments of Corrections and Health Services. In addition, a team of local treatment court subject matter experts were central to the project through the design of the curriculum and materials for the trainings. The six trainings also were delivered using this collaborative model, with teams of experts partnering to facilitate different sessions to the local treatment court teams
In addition, a key benefit of this collaborative effort was that the curriculum was developed and facilitated by many of the same experts who worked on the creation of the standards and performance measures, and who had direct experience as part of a treatment court team. These trainings would not have been possible without the expertise, support, and dedication of the following individuals who donated their time and took a lead role in developing and delivering the trainings:
- Katie Behl, Walworth County Treatment Court Coordinator
- Judge Ellen Brostrom, Milwaukee County Circuit Court
- Carol Carlson, Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court Coordinator, WATCP President
- Judge Kathryn Foster, Waukesha County Circuit Court
- Jared Hoy, Policy Initiatives Advisor, Department of Corrections
- Patrick Isenberger, Treatment Court Coordinator, Eau Claire County
- Jane Klekamp, Associate County Administrator, La Crosse County
- Constance Kostelac, Director, Bureau of Justice Information and Analysis, Department of Justice
- Judge Elliott Levine, La Crosse County Circuit Court
- Reneé Lushaj, Justice System Improvement Specialist, Department of Justice
- Judge John Markson, Dane County Circuit Court
- Ryan McMillen, Drug Treatment Court Coordinator, Wood County
- Judge Mitch Metropulos, Outagamie County Circuit Court
- Elizabeth Pohlman-McQuillen, Criminal Justice System Planner/Analyst, Rock County
- Bethany Robinson, Alternative Treatment Coordinator, Outagamie County
- Kristin Schier, Treatment Court Coordinator, Grant County
- Judge Lisa Stark, District 3 Court of Appeals
The trainings would not have been possible without the contributions from the partner agencies including the Wisconsin Departments of Corrections and Health Services, and the Director of State Courts Office, as well as the numerous employees from the DOJ who took the lead on coordinating all aspects of the trainings. In addition, recognition is due to the treatment courts teams from across the state for their attendance, participation and commitment to improving the practices of Wisconsin’s treatment courts. This series of trainings is a significant step toward enhancing the consistency and supporting the implementation of evidence-based practices in treatment courts across Wisconsin.