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Central Wisconsin Health Center Could House Mentally Ill Defendants

Proposal Would Help Relieve Demand At 2 State Facilities

Inmate behind curtain
Eric Gay/AP Photo

A central Wisconsin mental health center could house criminal defendants to help ease the strain on two existing state facilities.

Under the plan, the Norwood Health Center in Marshfield would treat mentally ill defendants until they’re competent to participate in criminal proceedings.

Norwood Administrator Jordon Bruce said the state would lease a 20-bed unit for $500,000 per year and hire professionals to staff it.

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“They’re looking at adding about 36 full-time equivalent employees, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers,” he said.

The plan, proposed to Norwood by the state, still needs approval by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and Wood County, which owns the facility.

Bruce admitted some county officials are worried.

“We certainly want to ensure the safety and security of not only our current residents and staff but also the Marshfield and surrounding communities as a whole,” Bruce said. He said Norwood would not house the most dangerous felony defendants.

The state is considering Norwood because of the high demand for the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, which houses men, and the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, which houses women, Bruce said.

Housing defendants in Marshfield would also cut down on the need to travel to Madison or Oshkosh.

“When we look at the state as a whole, to only have two of these facilities, not only family members but law enforcement personnel that have to transport these individuals, this would be much closer for those central Wisconsin and northern Wisconsin counties,” Bruce said.

Bruce said he should know by the end of March if the state is interested in moving forward with the proposal.