Friday, February 27, 2009

Sheriff Clarke Joins Milwaukee County Executive in Opposition to Governor's Early Inmate Release Proposal

*** The following remarks were made during a joint news conference with County Executive Scott Walker and other law enforcement officers ***

Governor Doyle’s Proposal re: Early Release of Inmates
February 27, 2009

A May 2005 news release from the office of Governor Jim Doyle boasted that he had returned back into an already overcrowded prison system, every prison inmate who had been housed in an out-of-state facility. There were 5,000 prisoners in the program in order to reduce costs because it was cheaper to house inmates in facilities outside Wisconsin.

Governor Doyle’s statement boasted that judicial leniency, in the form of shorter sentences, would inevitably lead to lower incarceration rates and lower costs. He touted the expansion of treatment programs that had no historical or empirical proof of success, instead of quickly returning to prison those who violated their supervised early release.

At the time, a report from the office of then-State Senator Gwen Moore on the idea of bringing these inmates back, states that, …”it would be impossible to place inmates housed in private out-state prisons back into Wisconsin facilities since Wisconsin’s prisons are already overcrowded.” The governor did not heed this advice and did it anyway. It is obvious that none of his bold predictions came true, which is why he’s back again, wanting to release even more criminals into Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Now in 2009, Governor Jim Doyle wants to once again play Russian roulette with the safety and security of our seniors, women and children who are disproportionately the ones most affected by fear, violence and disorder. Statistically the people who will pay the highest price in the form of injury, death and emotional trauma in the form of fear will be Milwaukee’s minority community, because that is where the majority of these criminal perpetrators will return. They will not return to where Governor Doyle and Department of Corrections Secretary Raemisch live. I live in the city of Milwaukee; Doyle and Raemisch do not.

For them to propose this dangerous experiment shows how out-of-touch they are with the reality of criminal behavior. For the governor to make policy decisions on public safety, solely for budgetary purposes is reckless, irresponsible and an abdication of his most elementary responsibility--that being to secure the personal safety of citizens. Studies and research show that states with lenient sentencing and corrections policies have higher rates of recidivism. The numbers don’t lie. This budgetary proposal does.

Crime has become ingrained human behavior by the time we send criminals to prison. Rehabilitation will not work with this group. As Aristotle pointed out, a man is what he continually does. Thinking happy thoughts about changing the behavior of career criminals is no way to develop policy. Crime will rise if done this way.

I’m sick and tired of the word game being played by the governor and other criminal sympathizers where they use the term “non-violent” to refer to the prison population that he wants to release early. I’m here to tell you that there are very few “non-violent” people in the state prison system. It’s not where we send all law violators; it’s where we send the worst of the worst. U.S. Department of Justice figures show that well over half of those currently in prison are there for violent crimes, and many are repeat offenders and habitual felons. Those locked up for drugs are mainly dealers belonging to notorious street gangs.

Even if the governor offered early release to his so-called “non-violent” criminals--whatever that means--their numbers are so few that it will not ease either the incarceration costs or the lack of space. In order for Governor Doyle’s budget proposal to have an impact, the standard will have to be lowered to where sexual predators, armed robbers, people who use firearms to settle disputes, and drug dealers will be included in his inventory reduction sale. How do I know this? It’s happening now. Citizens are unaware of what goes on at the state Department of Corrections because the media pays little attention to state DOC release policies.

Here are my recommendations. I am imploring Governor Doyle to do two things. First, pull his recommendation to commute prison sentences to save money, and instead order Secretary Raemisch to immediately write a plan to re-institute the policy of moving state inmates into the out-of-state facilities. This will in the short term ease the overcrowding problem and allow time for more deliberate and thoughtful consideration of who is worth the risk of releasing early.

Second, place into the budget a policy change that would repeal the law prohibiting private prisons from operating in Wisconsin. The state should sell its prison assets and contract out for at least some of the operation of state prisons to start, and gradually turn it all over. A 2002 Harvard Law Review report analyzed that “correctional services provided by private prisons usually outperformed public prisons in the area of costs, accountability and operational flexibility. They use fewer administrative personnel, and implement effective programs that reduce overtime and employee use of sicktime.”

Public safety cannot be achieved painlessly or cheaply. One of the main reasons that prison costs are so high in Wisconsin is because they are inefficiently run.

Here’s just one example of a person who was put out on early release from the Wisconsin state prison system.

In March 2007, Michael R. Green pleaded guilty to a killing, and nine other felony counts, in the brutal murder of sandwich delivery driver Joseph Munz.

The absolute laundry list of crimes Michael R. Green was charged with, from first-degree reckless homicide for shooting Munz in the Riverwest neighborhood to the string of armed robberies leading up to that deadly encounter, was the final chapter in a life of crime.

Munz, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student from Lodi and former football player, paid the price of a system that doesn’t lock up those who need to be removed from society.

The evidence? Green had previously served three years in prison after killing a 3-year-old boy in a 2001 high-speed hit-and-run accident, for which he was on extended supervision when he killed Munz.

Even though Green was sentenced to eight years in that killing, it wasn’t really eight: because of concurrent sentences and liberal use of parole, it was 3 years in custody, and 3 years of extended supervision.

How long after Green got out of those measly 3 years of confinement before he was rearrested for killing Munz? Under 2 ½ years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Danger in Abandoning the Tough Sentencing Model

Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor’s suggestion in a recent press release, that Wisconsin abandon its "lock ‘em up" attitude has got to be music to the ears of criminals. She and State Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch would have these thugs live among us instead of rightly being separated from law-abiding society. The lie that will be advanced is that many of those currently in prison are non-violent, are there for lesser offenses, or are substance abusers in need of treatment. The truth, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, is that over half of those currently in prison are there for violent crimes and many are repeat offenders and habitual felons. Those locked up for drugs are mainly dealers belonging to notorious street gangs. This population is not in need of treatment, they’re in need of punishment. It’s foolhardy to believe that group hugs will be effective with this group of miscreants. The other myth perpetrated by these advocates is that corrections expenditures exceed spending on education. Wrong again. Nationally, between 1995 and 2007, spending for education almost doubled, while corrections spending was lower.

This attitude is nothing new. Lower crime rates are always seen by soft-on-crime advocates as an opportunity to experiment with shorter sentences and rehabilitation. This only leads to rising crime rates, as evidenced by history and empirical evidence. When the soft-on-crime advocates had their way with legislators back in the‘60s, it led to massive increases in crime in the ‘80s; most notably violent crime in America’s urban communities. Liberal policies like these not only fail, but they have a devastating effect in urban neighborhoods where blacks and other minorities reside. Locking away violent and recidivist offenders does work. It gives women, children and families a temporary respite from being preyed upon by drug dealers, gang members and those who use firearms and intimidation to impose their will and to hold entire neighborhoods hostage. Locking them away can, and is, an immediate remedy. Besides, they already benefit form a lenient judiciary.

There is no one approach that will solve the dilemma of crime. Among all the strategies that people may want to try, incarceration will never be replaced. It will always be one piece of the puzzle. This is very unsettling to the Left, but it is a fact of life. Society should always be willing to try programs that have merit based on empirical research and evidence, not those that are only well-intentioned. If it is determined that a program doesn’t work, it should be trashed, not repackaged with additional spending.

Senator Taylor’s assertion that corrections spending is bankrupting Wisconsin is true, but her reasoning is faulty. Wisconsin’s expenditure on corrections is high because it is inefficiently run. Employee costs are the culprit. The benefit ratio alone of operating prisons with state employees makes it cost prohibitive. Healthcare costs, pensions and benefits (like the scheme that was uncovered this past summer, where some state employees reached six-figure salaries by abusing sick leave and increasing overtime) are what make corrections so costly in Wisconsin.

My suggestion is for the state legislature to enact real reform by repealing the prohibition on operating private prisons in Wisconsin. Some out-of-the-box thinking is in order. Turning all or part of corrections over to be privately run will not only reduce the cost but the size of state government. Public sector labor organizations will scream, but is this about them or the taxpayers? Government never does anything more efficiently and effectively than the private sector. It’s why people rely on FedEx and UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service to have a package delivered.

I’m a career cop, not an economist and I don’t advocate for any particular approach to fixing the economy, but the stimulus proposal being offered in Washington D.C. believes that massive public works projects to rebuild America’s infrastructure, including roads and schools, are the way to stimulate the economy. This leaves out another important part of America’s infrastructure that people rely on and that are in need of rebuilding--local jails and prisons.
This approach will put many of Wisconsin’s unemployed back to work building and repairing prisons and jails in a two- to four-year project. The construction industry has been one of the hardest hit and is being targeted for revitalization. Once completed, these projects must end, according to John Maynard Keynes, the author of this economic theory. My concern is that government projects are usually behind schedule and over budget. By that time the economy will hopefully improve enough for those working on public projects to then find work in the private sector. Turning over Wisconsin’s prisons to be run privately will increase the state’s private sector hiring as well.

I realize that improving public safety by use of jails and prisons are not part of the liberal agenda but to not include them as part of America’s infrastructure along with roads, transportation projects and schools is for government to abdicate its most elementary responsibility, which is to secure the personal safety of its citizens.

David A. Clarke Jr., Sheriff
Milwaukee County