Wisconsin higher than most states for jailings tied to violating release

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BELOIT - A new statewide report shows that over half of inmates admitted to the Wisconsin prison system in 2017 were jailed for revocations of parole or probation violations, with Rock County officials highlighting work being done locally to mitigate recidivism.

The report, published by the Justice Lab at Columbia University, showed Wisconsin's rate of parole supervision is significantly higher than the national average (453 adults per 100,000, compared to 303 adults per 100,000 across the country). The report claims Wisconsin has the seventh highest parole supervision rate in the country, and the highest rate among neighboring states.

People incarcerated for a revocation of parole without a new conviction made up 36 percent of all prison admissions in Wisconsin in 2017, the most recent year in which data was available. When people incarcerated on parole and probation "holds" are considered, the total increases to nearly 55 percent of all prison admissions in 2017.

Currently the Rock County Jail population is approximately 425 inmates. Of those inmates, 78 are being held at the jail strictly for probation violations. An additional 40 inmates have new pending criminal charges and are on a probation hold, according to jail services command staff, meaning of the total local jail population, just over 1 in 4 persons held at the jail are being held for probation violations or new charges that have resulted in a probation violation.

Rock County Jail Services Commander Craig Strouse said the county's jail population peaked in 2007 and the overcrowding issue at the jail prompted the Rock County Sheriff's Office to establish programming aimed at reducing the jail's body count and promoting alternatives to jail time.

In 2007, the county received substantial grant funding to open drug, operating while intoxicated (OWI), and veterans courts in hopes to provide resources and treatment alternatives to non-violent offenders as opposed to jail time. The establishment of the courts also coincided with the jail expanding its Rock County Education and Criminal Addictions Program (RECAP), an intensive five-month program that aims to educate inmate participants with programming for release back into the community.

The jail also is set to add new staff brought on to assist the jail's reentry specialist, who helps inmates leaving the jail navigate the transition from life behind bars to reconnecting with the community. Previously, only one staff member for the sheriff's office handled exit preparation and resource assistance for inmates, a process Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said overwhelmed the system, prompting the part-time staff addition. A mental health worker will also be on-site more frequently at the jail in 2019.

Of the report, Strouse said it was complicated to correlate from state to state due to each state's differing post-release laws.

"All in all, many things are being done here in Rock County," Strouse said. "If you aren't putting minor offenders behind bars, you can find ways to get better outcomes for everyone involved."

Strouse said he's confident the jail's population would be higher if it weren't for an emphasis on programming offered to inmates while at the jail. This year Strouse said the sheriff's office was working with the Rock County Public Defender's Office, Department of Corrections probation offices in Beloit and Janesville, with some input from an administrative law judge to facilities ways to speed up the post-release supervision process.

"Everything we've been doing has been increasing with the overall goal of trying to help everyone in Rock County," Strouse said.

Rock County Justice System Manager Elizabeth Pohlman McQuillen said the impending changes to the county's legal system through the Evidence-Based Decision Making initiative are all aimed at reducing recidivism. The county board allocated $481,000 for initial EBDM implementation this year.

The jail will implement a pretrial assessment program for 90 days on a temporary basis. The trial run, planned to be administered by Milwaukee-based nonprofit JusticePoint, will screen inmates at the Rock County Jail to determine various factors of a given inmate at the jail before an initial pretrial monitoring and assessment program is put in place.

The county's EBDM effort will look to tackle risk screening and assessment, pre-charge diversion, enhanced deferred prosecution polices and behavioral health information sharing between law enforcement.

"We are doing a lot of things to try and prevent recidivism, especially things based in what the research tells us are dynamic risk factors that can be changed to reduce recidivism," McQuillen said. "By providing people with the interventions research has shown can reduce recidivism after using a validated criminogenic risk assessment, we hope to reduce recidivism at various points in the criminal justice system."

Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) personnel contacted at the Beloit probation office directed the Beloit Daily News to DOC communications staff, and Deputy Communications Director Clare Hendricks said DOC is looking at ways to improve outcomes for those in the criminal justice system.

"It is the goal of the DOC to promote public safety by giving offenders tools they need to be contributing members of their communities and help them live crime-free lives," Hendricks said. "We continue to analyze our processes to ensure we are giving offenders the best possible resources for them to become successful and to reduce recidivism throughout the state with the goal of public safety."

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