Posts Tagged ‘prisons’

Illiterate road to prison reform

January 3, 2010

Uppity Wisconsin:

Time was when politicians who wanted to show their anti-crime bona fides would rail about how prisoners were watching color television — or any television at all.

In Wisconsin these days they don’t even want prisoners to read books.

At the state level, the Dept. of Corrections has made it as difficult as possible for a well-intentioned Wisconsin Books to Prisoners project to function, banning any used books. Since the project relies largely on donations of used books, that has crippled its ability to fulfill the many requests it gets from Wisconsin prisoners. It sends books to prisoners in other states, almost all of which allow that. That struggle continues.

Now, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke closed the county jail library on Nov. 1 and will do the same at the House of Corrections on Dec. 31. Clarke offered no reason and caught the Benedict Center and librarians who operate the program by surprise.

I wondered aloud at Uppity Wisconsin whether the officials making such illogical decisions are illiterate themselves. If they have such little common sense and/or compassion to keep prisoners from reading you still think they might have read at least one report on the benefits of educational material for offenders.

Rainbow Book co-operative (co-founded by Ald. Marsha Rummel) details:

While some prisons accept hardcover and slightly used books, the best donations are new soft covers. Prisons will not accept books that contain any handwriting, margin notes, or highlighting.

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Why Wisconsin needs a liquor tax hike

October 7, 2009

If there’s one thing this state does not need more of, it’s prisoners. But apparently that’s the price we’re willing to pay to send a strong message about drunk driving. Therefore, despite the overly-simplistic approach the legislature is taking to the issue, it is nevertheless good that the state took some kind of action, because according to the stats, the message was not being heard.

However, with the criminalization (it becomes a misdemeanor) of first offense OWI comes an increase in offenders serving time. Estimates put the cost at around $70 million. To pay for the expense Senate Democrats have proposed increasing the liquor tax from $0.86 per liter to $1.36 per liter. According to Wispolitics, Senate Dems also have tried to cut costs to the state by advocating more offenders be put in municipal jails instead of state prisons.

The two committee Republicans voted against the bill, with Rep. Randy Hopper releasing a blistering, factually-flawed response to the “tax increase” that the Democrats “snuck in.”

Frankly, I’m glad the Democrats snuck it in at the last minute. 2009 is the year when the state of Wisconsin starts taking responsibility for its gargantuan prison system, which means start paying its bills. Throwing somebody in prison is a radical step that a society inevitably pays for – in far too many ways to go into detail now. A tax on liquor is likely the most honest way to get citizens to realize this.

Ever since the 1980’s, Republicans have tried to have it both ways on prisons. Under the leadership of Tommy Thompson, Republicans successfully got crime bills exempt from the fiscal estimates that are required to accompany all other types of legislation (the policy has since changed). As costs ballooned, any politician who advocated decreasing prison costs was accused of selling out the state’s safety for a little money, and of course, anybody who advocated higher taxes to fund the prison hysteria was a…you know the company line.

The Democrats’ decision to transfer costs to local jails is not especially significant. Fiscally it simply shifts the burden from the state to localities, however, there are probably quite a few municipalities with more space in their jails than the state, which begun exporting prisoners to other states years ago, has in its own. Therefore it might be slightly better fiscally. Minnesota, which has 1/3 as many prisoners in its state system as Wisconsin, uses a de-centralized system.

Crime and punishment in Wisconsin

September 22, 2009

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.

Gitmo prisoners in Wisconsin? Yes please!

July 6, 2009

Now that Republicans and Democrats have agreed that opium dealers from Afghanistan are infinitely more threatening than crack dealers from Kenosha, it’s nice to discover an analysis of the Guantanamo Bay dilemma that is free of the media gossip about what figure is going to turn up at your local Open Pantry.

You see, despite what the nattering nabobs of negativism say in D.C., terrorist suspects are more than welcome in small town prisons. So explains Eric J. Williams in the Capital Times:

Outside Washington, town after town, from Colorado to Montana to Tennessee, proposed bringing the enemy combatants to their communities.

The public’s surprise that small towns are vying for Guantanamo inmates just demonstrates how little urban and suburban Americans understand about rural America. For the rural communities, prisons and prisoners are about the promise of more jobs and more money.

One was Florence, Colo., where some of the current controversy is focused. It is the home to ADX Florence, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” where the federal government houses its most disruptive inmates under supermax conditions. It is home to “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid and 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, among others. And the town of Florence actually raised money to pay the federal government for the privilege of housing these inmates.

In the past, the government bore the burden of convincing towns of the benefits of having a prison. Today, communities must show the government why they are the best location for a prison.

Too true. In Wisconsin rural communities got so prison-crazed that the state eliminated the requirement that prison legislation be accompanied by a cost estimate.

Yes, in Wisconsin every single piece of legislation is required to include a cost estimate – except crime bills. That way legislators can brag about how much they’re cracking down on bad guys, about the new prisons being built in their districts, but they don’t have to face up to the cost for the tax payer.