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  • InsideTrack
  • May 01, 2024

    Legal Research 101: Treatment Courts

    May is National Treatment Court Month, a great time to brush up on your knowledge of treatment court programs available in your practice area. Law librarian Carol Hassler outlines the resources that answer your questions about Wisconsin's various treatment court programs.

    Carol Hassler

    judge talks to defendent from the bench at trial

    May 1, 2024 – Treatment courts – or problem-solving courts – have existed in Wisconsin for more than 25 years. OWI (operating while intoxicated) ​and drug treatment courts are the most common. Treatment courts use interventions to treat offenders involved in the criminal justice system while holding them accountable for their actions.

    Treatment courts provide structured plans for participants to address specific underlying issues that may lead to recidivism. Participants may attend several review hearings and work with professionals for treatment, incentivizing a change in behavior. The requirements to be admitted into a treatment court program vary, with participants entering programs pre-plea agreement and through the probation stage of a criminal case, depending on the program.

    Wisconsin’s first treatment court focused on adult drug offenders, but today a variety are available throughout Wisconsin, and may also be associated with family or juvenile court proceedings. These include:

    • domestic violence;

    • drug and alcohol;

    • drunken driving or OWI;

    • mental health;

    • Tribal healing to wellness; and

    • Veterans.

    Mental Health Law in Wisconsin: A Guide for Legal and Healthcare Professionals, from State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE®, provides an excellent overview of the history and current practice of treatment courts. This book instructs on the types of courts, typical eligibility criteria, roles and responsibilities of court staff, and other issues. Several helpful standards, guides, and reports are referenced and cited throughout the chapter.

    Sources of Law and Procedure

    County partnerships drive treatment court creation and administration. Admission guidelines, procedures, expected outcomes, and legal consequences for local treatment courts are best researched at the county level. Some counties provide detailed manuals online, while others have provided general overviews, participant brochures, or coordinator contacts for the public to learn more. The local State Public Defender’s office may be a helpful resource to learn more about treatment court programs in that county.

    Carol Hassler Carol Hassler is a law librarian at the Wisconsin State Law Library and a 2022 Wisconsin Legal Innovator. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW), whose members regularly contribute to InsideTrack.

    Relevant state laws include deferred prosecution agreements and drug court funding statutes but do not provide an overall framework for treatment courts throughout the state.

    Many treatment courts in Wisconsin receive funding through the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program, administered by the Wisconsin Department of Justice and coordinated with other state agencies and the Director of State Courts Office.

    Check books and articles for help finding case law, like All Rise’s guide, A Practitioner’s Guide to Constitutional and Legal Issues in Adult Drug Courts. Recently updated, this guide includes case law on murky issues.

    Standards can be found from a handful of sources, but Wisconsin practitioners should begin with these sources:

    • Wisconsin Treatment Court Standards: Last revised in 2018, these standards are created by the Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Standards Revision Committee, and include guidelines for creating, maintaining, and evaluating treatment courts.

    • Problem-Solving Courts from the Wisconsin Court System provide additional lists of standards, as well as guidelines and training opportunities.

    Directories of Treatment Courts

    You can find a list of treatment courts in these resources:

    Sources to Learn More

    Several organizations exist to collaborate on treatment court practice and standards. These organizations may publish reports, statistics, or training material on their websites.

    The Wisconsin Association of Treatment Court Professionals provides a court directory for the state and current standards.

    All Rise, formerly known as the National Drug Court Institute, has several publications on its website, including best practices for different types of treatment courts, drug fact sheets, and a Drug Court Judicial Benchbook.

    The National Center for State Courts treatment courts hub includes an interactive U.S. standards map, performance measurement guidelines, and news about treatment court programs nationwide.

    The National Treatment Court Resource Center is a helpful source for statistical data and nationwide reports.

    In addition to the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Mental Health Law in Wisconsin mentioned at the beginning of this article, print publications include:

    Article research is always a helpful strategy to learn about current and emerging issues in treatment courts, and to get leads on recent case law. In the past decade, Wisconsin Lawyer magazine published In the Crosshairs: Heroin’s Impact on Wisconsin’s Criminal Justice System (2016) and Treatment Courts and the Criminal Justice Tool Box (2019), both useful overviews of some treatment court programs and policies in Wisconsin.

    Use sources like HeinOnline (searchable in Fastcase and available to some Wisconsin State Law Library cardholders) or Badgerlink article databases to find newer articles on emerging treatment court trends.

    Boost Your Research with Help from a Law Librarian

    Ask a librarian for help with your research! We are trained to assist with finding and using the best resources for your unique legal research needs. Law librarians are available at these Wisconsin libraries:

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