WI Attorney General Visits with Tribal Council to Discuss Treatment and Diversion Programs
By Joe Morey
Wisconsin’s Attorney General Josh Kaul stopped by the Tribal Office to meet with members of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) on Tuesday, March 3, to discuss important criminal justice issues.
TGB members expressed concerns about too much incarceration in Sawyer County and not enough diversion programs; transportation issues for tribal members to get to Hayward for court-ordered appointments, hearings and/or probation meetings; mental health access for inmates; transitional housing; and the disproportionate incarceration rate for Natives.
“We should all be moving in the direction that throwing people into jail just isn’t the answer. A huge percentage of people who are incarcerated have mental health issues or addiction issues,” Kaul stated. He told the TGB that most counties across Wisconsin are moving towards more discretion for law enforcement and prosecutors in choosing no criminal charges for low-level drug possession charges.
In regard to the TGB’s recent concerns that an additional judge in Sawyer County and eventual extra assistant district attorney could lead to an even higher incarceration rate among Natives, Kaul said it shouldn’t lead to more people in jail, but to more diversion programs.
“The district attorney should make sure new resources are used for diversion programs,” Kaul noted.
Prior to his election in 2018 to Attorney General, Kaul was a federal prosecutor. He said at that job, he would look at whether the person was a danger to the community or a flight risk, and if not, the person wouldn’t be held in jail. If the offender was non-violent drug possession, and lived in the community, they would be released, he added.
LCO Health Center Interim Director Gary Girard said the health center isn’t able to get mental health councilors into the jail. The jail said they don’t have the resources to have officers escort the inmates and councilors.
“They need to let us get in that jail for counseling for successful re-entry to reduce recidivism,” Gerard said. He told Kaul, “Any support you can give for grants that could help the Tribe with transitional housing would be appreciated. We don’t have access to funds to help and we have people come out of treatment and go right back to the same neighborhoods.”
TGB member Gary “Little Guy” Clause said no matter how long a drug addict is incarcerated, the first thing he wants when he is released is to get back to that drug. “That’s why it’s important we get to them while they are still in the jail just prior to release and we help them. We need to be able to get our mental health professionals into the Sawyer County jail.”
TGB member Tweed Shuman added success at reducing recidivism starts with getting our mental health professionals into the jail or for our people in treatment to have transitional housing.
“It saves the county a lot of money and it’s better for the people when they have access to diversion programs rather than sitting in jail,” Kaul stated. He also told the TGB that each local sheriff is in charge of policies regarding their jails, which would include mental health access for inmates.
LCO Secretary-Treasurer Michelle Beaudin said if misdemeanor offenses were transferred into our own tribal court system, tribal members would have a higher rate of showing up for court.
“We are a big family out here and everyone knows everyone, so it might help when family members see someone on the docket that they would remind them of their court date and get them there,” Beaudin said.
Kaul thanked the TGB for meeting with him to discuss treatment and diversion.
“These programs are critical in fighting the drug epidemic,” Kaul stated.
Kaul also explained to the TGB about what the Department of Justice actually does. He said as attorney general, he oversees 800 employees spread out over four divisions and one office: the Division of Criminal Investigation, Division of Law Enforcement Services, Division of Legal Services, Division of Management Services and the Office of Crime Victim Services. The agency also pursues ongoing anti-opioid messaging through the Dose of Reality outreach.
“We challenge federal policies and we represent in some criminal cases. We do appeals, consumer protection and environmental cases on behalf of the state too,” Kaul explained.
The DOJ also manages the state's three crime labs, and investigates major crimes involving, among other things, illegal drugs, fugitives, public corruption, official misconduct, organized crime, domestic terrorism, Medicaid fraud and patient abuse. He added they also investigate some Arsons, sexual assaults and homicides.
Kaul said they also apply for grants and support other parts of the state in applying for grants.
“We oversee the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and we oversee diversion programs and ultimately make grant decisions on these programs. The CJCC is about getting people out of jail and into treatment programs,” Kaul said.
According to the state website, “The Statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) was established by Governor Scott Walker through Executive Order #65 in April 2012 (and continued through Executive Order #180 in 2015). The CJCC has brought together key state and local decision-makers as a collaborative body to assess the criminal justice system and improve system outcomes. The twenty member Council is co-chaired by Wisconsin's Attorney General and Department of Corrections Secretary. The mission of the State CJCC is to promote and facilitate the implementation of effective criminal justice policies and practices that maximize justice and the safety of the public. One of the top priorities for the council is to reduce future growth in Wisconsin’s correctional institutions by reducing criminal recidivism through more effective management and operation of the state criminal justice system.
Kaul concluded stating, “Basically, we protect the public and insure justice.”
Attorney General Josh Kaul (left) talks with the LCO Tribal Governing Board.
From L-R) TGB members Glenda Barber, Gary "Little Guy" Clause, Atty General Josh Kaul, LCO Sec-Treasurer Michelle Beaudin, TGB member Tweed Shuman and LCO Chairman Louis Taylor.