Hundreds of people packed into a banquet room at Infusino’s Restaurant Wednesday night to learn about prison reform, how Wisconsin is the highest in the nation in the percentage of black men it incarcerated, and what Racine County is doing to address the issue.

The Racine Interfaith Coalition, a group composed of 26 congregations, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County and the NAACP organized the event to talk about treatment courts and diversions that get people out of prison.

“We’re trying to reduce the prison population by increasing the opportunities for treatment,” said Pastor Michael Mueller.

Ray Luick, a specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, spoke at the event. He said there have been serious mistakes made in the prison system, but the Racine County Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court has been a bright spot in how to fix part of the problem..

“But we still don’t have the treatment providers to take care of the needs in these communities,” Luick said. “When you look at the number of mental health beds in this state, we have no more mental health beds available than we did 25 years ago. How are we going to meet the needs of this community without those services?”

In Racine County, the system has been overburden by people with opiate and heroin addition.

But Mary Jane Whtimore, clinical director of Behavioral Health Services of Racine County, explained how Racine County has expanded its drug court to increase the number of people they serve by engaging non-violent offenders who have mental health and substance abuse issues in their own treatment. Still, the focus is only on people who are at a high risk for re-offending and are dependent on drugs or alcohol. The treatment takes 18 months to complete.

“We’ll do whatever we can do to support them to make their treatment effective,” Whitmore said. “You can’t get treatment if you can’t get to treatment so we’ll problem solve those things with the individual.There’s no one size fits all treatment, it’s individually designed.

“Drug courts are the most effective justice intervention for treating drug addicted people. They do reduce use. They do reduce crime. They save money and they restore lives and families.”

Deacon Greg Petro, president of RIC, said people are suffering in the community.

“We are all God’s children and we want our son’s and daughters’ to be taken care of,” he said.

Petro encouraged the group to become politically active to influence state policy makers and help bring attention to the issue by talking to their neighbors.


Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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