Governor's opioid proposals highlight ongoing shift from incarceration to treatment

MPD already working on its own treatment program

Governor's opioid proposals highlight...

MADISON, Wis. - A Madison police captain who is involved in the department's efforts to combat the city's opioid crisis said Thursday the department is already in the midst of a shift in how it deals with those addicted to the powerful drugs.

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisconsin, on Thursday called for a special legislative session to deal with the opioid crisis and released a report on combating opioid addiction.

Walker recommended continuing to fund treatment and diversion programs that keep offenders out of the criminal justice system and instead focus on treatment. The program had been funded in a one-time biennial transfer of $2 million per year; Walker's proposal would recommended continuing that funding in addition to adding more funds.

Madison police have been working on their own treatment and diversion program -- the Madison Addiction and Recovery Initiative. The program, funded by a $700,000 federal grant, was announced in September; the project is set to begin this month.

Madison police Capt. Cory Nelson said the program would give low-level offenders of drug-related property crimes the chance to seek treatment from local programs instead of going to jail. Nelson said charges would be dropped if a participant successfully completes the treatment program.

Nelson said the program came into being after police realized they couldn't arrest their way out of the addiction crisis.

"For years and years we've treated it as a crime. We've realized that we're not making a lot of headway at this point in time treating it that way," Nelson said. "We are looking to try to treat addiction as though it's a disease and not necessarily a crime."

Another Walker proposal is to expand Wisconsin's good Samaritan law to give limited immunity from certain criminal prosecutions for those who overdose. Currently, only third parties have that immunity.

Nelson said while MPD officers currently do arrest those who overdose on possession charges, it's something the department wants to change.

"We're trying to get away from charging people," Nelson said.

Nelson said he hopes the program gets people to come to police for help seeking treatment.

"In departments around the country, people do show up at the doorstep of the police department, knocking on the door, asking for help," Nelson said. "We hope the same thing happens here."

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