Crime and punishment in Wisconsin


Zach W from Blogging Blue, friend of the Sconz amidst the unforgiving world which is the Wisconsin blogosphere, will be featured today in a mini-special on corrections reform in the Badger State. Although I disagree with Zach deeply on this issue, he knows a lot about corrections so I thought it’d be useful to give him some space. Here goes:

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the provision contained within the most recent state budget, otherwise known as 2009 Wisconsin Act 28, that would make all but the most violent offenders and sex offenders potentially eligible for early release. At the time, I voiced my support for the measure, and I cited data from other states that seemed to support the contention that strong reentry programs, combined with a concerted effort to reduce prison sentences, seemed to be having a positive impact when it comes to reducing recidivism rates.

While I still believe in the merits of reducing sentences for some crimes while focusing on efforts to provide more support for individuals reentering the community after spending time in prison, I’ve come to the realization WI Act 28 may end up doing more harm than good when it comes to keeping communities safe. At the time I wrote my earlier entry, I was operating under the assumption the very worst of the Wisconsin prison system, including sex offenders and violent offenders, would be ineligible for early release from prison and early discharge from extended supervision (parole). However, having had the opportunity to have the practical application of WI Act 28 explained to me, it’s been made abundantly clear to me that the early release provisions of WI Act 28 were poorly thought out and seem to have no rhyme or reason.

Here’s a perfect example: under the new early release provisions, an individual convicted of aggravated battery to an unborn child is statutorily eligible to earn early release from prison as well as an early discharge from extended supervision once released from prison, while an individual convicted of a nonviolent offense such as misconduct in public office is not eligible for early release from prison or an early discharge from extended supervision. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing misconduct in public office – or any other felony, for that matter – aren’t serious offenses, but they’re certainly not as seriously assaultive as a crime like aggravated battery to an unborn child.

In fact, a quick look at the list of offenses that will be eligible for early release from prison and early discharge from extended supervision shows a good number of violent offenses, including:

Class F Felonies

  • Second degree reckless injury
  • First-degree recklessly endangering safety
  • Assault by prisoners
  • Causing great bodily harm by tampering with household products

Class G Felonies

  • Homicide by negligent handling of dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire
  • Homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle
  • Abuse of vulnerable adults
  • Felony intimidation of a victim
  • Felony intimidation of a witness
  • Second-degree recklessly endangering safety
  • Endangering safety (by discharging firearm into a vehicle or building or setting a spring gun)
  • Physical abuse of a child (recklessly causing great bodily harm)

Class H Felonies

  • Aggravated battery to an unborn child [statute 940.195(4)]
  • Aggravated battery [statute 940.19(4)]
  • Battery by prisoners
  • Battery to jurors
  • Battery to probation and parole agents and aftercare agents
  • Battery or threat to witnesses
  • False imprisonment
  • Stalking
  • Physical abuse of a child (intentionally causing bodily harm)

Keep in mind the lists compiled above are in no way inclusive of every offense that will be eligible for early prison release or early discharge from extended supervision; there are scores more crimes that I didn’t list, in the interest of keeping this from becoming too lengthy. However, that list includes some pretty violent offenses, and it seems to me individuals who commit the types of violent offenses I’ve listed are precisely the individuals who need to be held fully accountable for their actions, instead of being granted early release simply to save money and clear some bed space in the Wisconsin State Prison system.

Unless the provisions of Wisconsin Act 28 are coupled with a renewed effort to provide adequate post-release services for offenders – services such as alcohol & drug treatment, domestic violence treatment, mental health counseling, housing, and employment – offenders released under the provisions of Wisconsin Act 28 will only end up caught in a revolving door of incarceration while endangering communities across Wisconsin in the process.

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6 Responses to “Crime and punishment in Wisconsin”

  1. Adam Says:

    This isn’t the whole story. While those with F-I felonies are eligible for additional good time (“Positive Adjustment Time”) regardless of the violent/non-violent nature of the offense, those who have committed “violent felonies” defined by 2.
    s. 301.048 (2) (bm) 1. are not guaranteed the time. An Early Release Review Commission (ERRC) (not quite sure on the name) has to voice their opinion on whether to give an individual the good time. A court then has the right to either follow the ERRC determination of decline to do so and have their own say. There’s a great breakdown of the new provisions from Act 28 here:

    Click to access Reform%20Initiatives-DAI.pdf

  2. Zach W. Says:

    Adam, that’s why I wrote they’d be eligible for early release, and not that they’d actually be released early. However, it’s also worth noting that in some cases, inmates will actually be eligible for early release at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department, without ever having to go in front of the ERRC, as part of the Certain Early Release (CER) program.

  3. Adam Says:

    Exactly. This creates a situation akin to parole (not exactly, but close enough for analogy). The rates of inmates eligible for parole who actually get it closer to their eligibility date as opposed to their max discharge date is very small. They don’t let many people out on parole and I don’t think they’ll be flocking to let “violent offenders” out early in this system given the publicity that this system has received. Had this not been a part of the budget, it could be a bit of a different story.

    With regard to reoffense/revocation potential under this system, I agree to a degree (rhyming is fun). There needs to be increases in both in and out of prison rehabilitative and vocational programing to insure success on the outside. However, many people (not sure of the statistics) are pulled from Extended Supervision due to technical violations and not a new offense. If they ease up on some of the technical violations, I think you’ll see the revocation rate drop by a significant portion. I may be wrong, but I think this either is in Act 28 or was intended to be in the act.

    All of this discussion on both our parts is a bit premature until the DOC actually releases the administrative guidelines for implementing the Positive Adjustment Time and other changes in Act 28.

  4. Zach W. Says:

    Adam, there are many violations that are considered “technical violations” that could certainly warrant revocation. For instance, absconding for supervision is a “technical violation,” but I’d certainly argue someone who absconds from community supervision has demonstrated a clear unwillingness to cooperate with community supervision and thusly warrants revocation. Along those same lines, an offender leaving the state of Wisconsin without permission from a supervising agent is also just a “technical violation,” but along with absconding I’d argue that demonstrates a clear unwillingness to cooperate with the basic tenets of community supervision.

    Violating a no-contact rule, such as one put in place between a violent domestic violence offender and his victim, is also a “technical violation,” but I’d argue that a violent DV offender who violates a no-contact rule certainly poses a danger to his victim.

  5. Jack Knutson Says:

    Please lodge complaints against prison officials who discriminate to William Grosshans, Administrator – 3099 East Washington Avenue- PO Box 7960-Madison, Wisconsin 53707- phone # 608.240.7280.

  6. Simply just Says:

    Thanks meant for offering such wonderful knowledge.

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