Friday, April 15, 2011

Walkers plan to save money, keep people incarcerated longer! What is wrong with this picture

WI Budget Tightens Early Prison Release

March 9th, 2011
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Gov. Scott WalkerGov. Scott Walker’s plan to rescind former Gov. Jim Doyle’s cost-saving sentencing reform measures will have little positive effect on the state budget or even on Walker’s wish to restore truth in sentencing, data from the state Department of Corrections shows. Reported in the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Walker has proposed changing the funding for the prison system, taking it from a $1.3 billion budget for this year to $1.2 billion in 2012 and then back up to $1.27 billion in 2013.
In Walker’s recent budget address, the governor said his plan would restore truth in sentencing, state efforts begun in the late 1990s to more closely tie court sentences to actual time that inmates serve.
While he didn’t address whether costs would increase because inmates could be kept in prison longer, he said the intention is separating issues of early release from budget considerations.
To some observers, the repealing of Doyle’s early release initiatives seem contradictory to Walker’s cost-cutting strategies.
“There appears to be substantial cuts planned in the DOC budget, and at the same time, we’re expecting prisoners are going to stay locked up for longer periods,” Brown County Judge J.D. McKay said. “That costs money. I don’t completely understand the logic of the two; they seem to run counter to each other.”
In reality, Walker’s planned changes to Doyle’s early release measures will affect relatively few inmates.
Doyle’s plan, which started on Oct.1, 2009, was originally expected to save as much as $27 million over two years. Actual savings have been minimal because relatively few inmates have been released early under the program, prison data shows.
Out of a prison population of more than 22,000, only 479 inmates were released early since Oct. 1, 2009, according to prison spokesman Tim LeMonds. No specific figure of cost savings was available, LeMonds said, but “over the last few years, it was extremely minimal.”
The largest share — 362 inmates — were released under the sentence adjustment program, a program that will remain largely intact under Walker’s proposed changes, according to Tony Streveler, the prison system’s policy initiatives advisor.
Under that program, eligible inmates who have served 75 percent or more of their sentences become eligible to apply for early release. Under Doyle’s plan, those inmates had to apply first to the governor’s Earned Early Release Commission and, if approved at that level, then to the original sentencing judge.
Walker’s plan leaves the program in place but streamlines the process: Inmates would apply directly to the sentencing judge.
“The court would make the decision up front and on the back end,” Streveler said.
Walker’s plan eliminates other early release programs that Doyle put in place in 2009.
One of those plans gave the prison the authority to release low-level nonviolent offenders who had served all but 12 months of their prison time. The unserved prison time was added to their extended supervision. Only 56 inmates were released since Oct. 1, 2009, under that program.
Walker’s plan also would eliminate early release under Doyle’s “positive adjustment time” program. That program allowed certain inmates to earn a day of early release for a specified number of days served with good behavior. Certain low-level, nonviolent offenders could earn one day for every two days served; others could earn one day for every three days served; others could earn one day for every 5.7 days served with good behavior. Under that program, unserved prison time again was added to the inmates’ extended supervision periods. Only 56 earned early release through that program since Oct. 1, 2009.
Doyle’s plan allowed early release for inmates with extraordinary health problem, as determined by two physicians. Walker’s plan tightens the rule, requiring a terminal medical condition as determined by two physicians. Four inmates were released since Oct. 1, 2009, under Doyle’s plan.
Doyle’s plan allowed qualified low-level offenders to apply to the state Department of Corrections for early release from extended supervision, providing they had served two years or at least half of the extended supervision term. To date, 87 people received early release from extended supervision. Walker’s plan would repeal that program.
Doyle had also expanded the definition of inmates eligible for the prison’s Challenge Incarceration Program, so-called “boot camp” for inmates with special programming needs. That program originally allowed only drug- and alcohol-dependent inmates; Doyle’s plan allowed admission of inmates with other program needs. Walker’s plan would restore the program’s original eligibility limits.

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