Door County has been awarded a $160,000 grant to conduct a two-year pre-booking diversion pilot program that will put certain low-risk offenders on the path to treatment rather than jail.
Lt. Tammy Sternard, who oversees the Door County Jail, applied for the grant, saying it’s obvious in certain instances that jail is not the best option for everyone.
“Working on the correctional side, you see the same people coming back time and time again. If you spend a few minutes talking to them, you can clearly see in some cases that with early intervention, they might not be where they are today,” she said.
Criminal justice diversion programs have been recognized for the potential to produce positive outcomes, especially among those suffering from mental illness.
“I’m very excited about it,” Sternard said. “Basically, it’s a law enforcement-aided diversion. It allows the officers on the street to evaluate each individual situation using established criteria. If that individual is found to have some sort of underlying addiction issue, then they can refer that person down what I call a treatment path, versus bringing them to the jail. The end goal is to catch individuals early and give them a different pathway to dealing with the issues they have.”
Sternard said when she originally wrote the grant, her mind was focusing on youth intervention.
“My goal when I wrote the grant was to try to get some sort of program that we could interact in the early stages,” she said. “Youth was my focus, but now that we’re building a program, what we’re seeing the opioid and heroin and meth problems are hitting males, females, young, old, middle-aged. There’s no really poster child for this issue. We are keeping it very open in the sense that we will use the valuation tool and provide whatever service we can to get them on the right path.”
Sternard said officers will refer those chosen for the program to be evaluated by a case manager in Door County’s Human Services Dept. The case manager will then recommend a treatment program.
“If that individual participates – it’s all voluntary – and they successfully complete whatever the case manager has established for them, they never will be charged with that underlying crime.”
Sternard said the program is so new that they haven’t even come up with a name for it yet. However, she expects it to be up and running by January.
“This is really designed to give somebody a second chance,” Sternard said. “You made a mistake. You’re going to have to abide by our rules and do these things, and once you’ve done them, hopefully it’s enough for them to stay on track.”
The $160,000 grant to the Door County Sheriff’s Dept. was one of three grants awarded to smaller Wisconsin communities, including the cities of Superior and Sauk Prairie, for treatment rather than incarceration. A total of $261,000 was granted.