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Project Milwaukee: In-depth reporting on vital issues in the region.

Counselors: Wisconsin Must Invest More Resources, Time into Helping Offenders with Mental Illnesses


Former inmate says plenty of young black men in Milwaukee need treatment for mental illnesses and trauma they've experienced in life.

Jerome Dillard, a former three-time felon who now counsels men leaving prison, says "hurt people, hurt people."

Dillard says he took part in a men's program that helped him address the violence he had witnessed and how it had affected him.

"I learned long ago, that traumas played a role in my rebellious behavior. I always knew that I was better than how I was living. I couldn't understand why I was self-medicating, why those gloomy days. I was undiagnosed, chronically depressed. I had seen my best friend killed. I had seen my girlfriend's mother killed. I'd seen mother beaten, so I was a man who was hurting, a man who had buried many traumas in my life and was acting out on that pain, which I never knew existed inside of me," Dillard says.

Dillard says men taking part in the program sometimes cry uncontrollably before experiencing a sense of relief.

Clarence Johnson and Bryan Murphy help ex-offenders find work, Johnson with Wisconsin Community Services and Murphy with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board.

Both say that some former offenders need years of rehabilitation and counseling and training before they're capable of holding their own in the work world.

"We need to have resources that are holistic, because when a person comes to us for work, they have a myriad of other kinds of issues, whether it's mental health issues, addiction issues, shelter, trauma that they've experienced, and the time frame that we have to work with them, is not long enough," Johnson says.

"In terms of the time period that we have to work with these individuals, it's like just putting a band aid on the problem. Some of the individuals that come into our programs and come into our doors, they have a lifetime worth of trauma and all these different experiences and all this anger and frustration, and to try to change their perception of themselves and change their perception of their future is difficult to do, in a six-month span," Johnson says.

Research is underway in Wisconsin, into special courts to deal with offenders who have untreated mental health issues, similar to the way the state's drug courts operate.