The Early Release Scam

Posted: August 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I’m at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), a facility in the Wisconsin Prison System (WPS).  Yesterday I ran into something that I haven’t seen since I’ve been incarcerated 15 months ago.  I met an inmate who is actually being released under Act 28.  A little background on Act 28.  Act 28 was the early release law that was written into the state budget last year when it looked like a balanced budget was an impossibility.  It produced an out cry for politicians, law enforcement agencies, the union representing the Department of Corrections (DOC) personnel, and the public.  The popular perception was that as a result of Act 28 there would be massive numbers of released criminals terrorizing Wisconsin cities.  The politicians, law enforcement, and the DOC gladly fed that fantasy to the public knowing that wasn’t the real reason.  The real reasons are that less inmates mean lost jobs for corrections officers and administrative staff, closed prisons, and less funding for remaining prisons as there would be less inmates to go around.  Local law enforcement agencies feared a reversal in the trend of declining crime which they’d have to answer for.  The last thing the DOC wants to see is their share of the budget pie stagnate much less decline. 

However, Act 28 would become law but lobbyists for the DOC managed to effect some changes.  The last time there was an early release program in Wisconsin, inmates would automatically qualify based on a certain percentage of their confinement period served.  The backlash to this produced the truth in sentencing reforms which got us in the mess we are in now.  This time, the DOC got to decide who is going to get early release and who isn’t.  Because letting people go is against the financial interests of the DOC, or its unions, it doesn’t make sense for them to let anyone go.  But because it is the law, they had to let someone go.  They did, which the media watched these few people like a hawk.  They walked out of prison with bulls eyes on their backs, with the DOC, through their probation agents, determined to show that Act 28 was a mistake.  It got so bad that even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (August 21, 2010), whom no one would accuse of a pro criminal  bias, wrote an editorial calling on the Department of Probation and Parole to give these few parolees a real chance to succeed.  When one was jailed for the horrible offense of being late to a meeting with their agent.  The DOC, been publicly embarrassed, had to let this inmate go.  But Act 28 continued to be rarely granted.  As a result there has been no significant reduction in the number of inmates incarcerated in Wisconsin Prisons.  Just the way the DOC and it’s unions wanted it.

So what’s the answer?  Remember, those convicted of sexual or violent offenses aren’t generally eligible for Act 28 to begin with.  I agree there needs to be a review before early release is granted but someone without a financial stake in this has to be involved.  This is only common sense.  Asking people to act against their own self interest is too much.

The inmate I met who got Act 28, don’t worry about him.  He’s leaving JCI to begin another jail term in another state and he doesn’t plan on returning to Wisconsin.  That’s probably a pretty good idea, from everyone’s perspective.

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