By Mandy Oaklander Wednesday, Apr 13 2011
John Kinsel remains in prison even after alleged rape victim recanted.
Read the full article here: http://www.houstonpress.com/2011-04-14/news/life-without-parole/
The devices would replace the ankle bracelets that are currently used to track offenders. The bracelets have been criticized as a lacking device as offenders have successfully removed them in the past before disappearing off of the radar. “(The devices would) be a little more difficult to take off,” said Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds. Chase is among a handful of lawmakers are looking into radio chips that can be planted under the skin. Some of the designs are no larger than a grain of rice. The radio chips would allow police to track an offender from a sex offender using the same technology used at the Tacoma Narrows bridge toll … If passed, the bill would allow the state to hire the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to determine whether chip implants would be more effective.
In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first supported a pilot program to track 500 sex offenders and alert authorities if one of them wandered too far from home. California voters passed a ballot initiative, nicknamed Jessica’s Law, in 2006 that prohibited sex offenders from being within 2,000 feet of a school or park and required all offenders to wear monitoring devices for the rest of their lives. By this year, the state wanted to expand monitoring to a thousand paroled gang members at a cost of $9,500 a year for each one.
The move expands what is already the nation’s biggest Global Positioning System monitoring program of convicts, coming three years after voters required satellite tracking of more than 7,000 paroled sex offenders.Unfortunately, the technology, as California implemented it, didn’t work. The case of convicted sex offender Leonard Scroggins shows the system’s problem. Scroggins cut the tracking device off his ankle and allegedly tried to rob or kidnap several women and girls over a two-day period. The device sounded an alarm and parole officers pushed through the paperwork for an arrest warrant, but the process took nearly 24 hours. Even then, police would only learn of the warrant if they picked up Scroggins for some other reason and then checked the appropriate database.
Computers can automatically route signals to the proper people in law enforcement. Nevertheless, parole officials have left tens of thousands of electronic alerts unresolved:
Officials say the backlog grew because they lacked software to run an ongoing report of all unresolved cases. That is, supervisors in Southern California were working only with reports of new alarms, rather than a report showing previous alarms that had not been cleared.Officials clearly didn’t have a desktop database or spreadsheet to filter and analyze the alerts, and so they were buried in unexamined data.
According to Petra Fuhriman, owner of GPS Monitoring Solutions, a monitoring consulting and services company never involved in the state’s system, California chose a passive alert system. Notifications from the monitoring devices automatically go to parole officers. However, there is no differentiation among different types of alerts. A device could as easily signal that it had been removed or that the battery was running down. Someone might be on a highway, technically in a restricted area but actually passing by at high speed — or stuck in traffic, where it might look like they were loitering.
Fuhriman says that that parole officers’ phones and email in-boxes “are flooded with these messages, so they become desensitized and stop paying attention.” The state could write software to prioritize the messages, based on the type of alert and the frequency of notification to help the officers choose the most important alerts, but it apparently hasn’t.
Alerts also do little good when parole personnel are off-duty on a weekend and no one receives a message until the following Monday. Some companies provide real-time monitoring, with outsourced first level screening of alerts and officer notification for serious issues, but that is more expensive.
And so California, like so many institutions and organizations, looked to technology as a silver bullet siren, but failed to undertake the operational changes necessary to make it work. Officials cost-cut the original good idea to the point where it was all but useless.
On June 30, at the end of fiscal year 2010, the department reported earlier this week, there were 22,171 inmates in the state’s prisons, up from 22,008 at the end of fiscal year 2009. But this slight increase followed three years of consecutive declines in fiscal years 2007, 2008 and 2009, a first since the state’s first correctional facility opened in Waupun in 1851. All told, the population has dropped from 23,797 in 2007 to 22,171 in 2010.
The state’s prison population grew by leaps and bounds in the 1990s. Then, in the first five years of the 21st Century, the growth slowed. In the five years that followed, between fiscal years 2005 and 2010, the population appears to have crested.
“It’s not like it’s dropping off a cliff,” says Kenneth Streit, an associate professor of law at UW-Madison and an expert on corrections in the state. “But I’m certainly heartened by the fact it’s coming down.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for prisons (including federal prisons) was 74 percent of the national average in 2004. But Streit says that if one includes both prison and county jail inmates, the state ranks relatively high.
“We’re reducing (the state prison population) from a fairly high number,” Streit says.
Crime has declined in Wisconsin, as in the rest of the country, in the past several years, according to Streit, meaning courts are sending fewer offenders to the state for incarceration. Efforts in Wisconsin and around the country are also mounting to find alternatives for non-violent offenders.
The previous philosophy, Streit says, was to give prisoners “a long sentence and if that doesn’t work, give them a longer one. We’re sort of winding our way out of those sentences.”
Rick Raemisch, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, agrees. “There are people that should be in prison, and there’s no question about it. But for the people who are nonviolent, the stakeholders are really starting to look at different alternatives.”
He adds, “We take a hard line with sex offenders for obvious reasons. But with others, we look at what we can do that will turn this individual around.”
Streit says that in recent years, the DOC has moved away from a “zero tolerance” approach to probation violations. Instead of automatically sending the person back to a correctional facility, he says, they may spend a short time in county jail, a strategy aided by a new state law that raised the limit on how long a DOC offender on probation can be jailed in a county facility for such a violation.
Streit and William Pelfrey, an associate professor of criminal justice at UW-Milwaukee, say court diversion programs are becoming increasingly popular in Wisconsin and are also helping to hold down the state’s prison populations. The programs, which include drug courts, where drug offenders undergo treatment and are given a chance to reform before they are imprisoned, have been relatively slow to take hold in Milwaukee County, according to Pelfrey.
The Milwaukee County Drug Treatment Court began accepting defendants in 2008. Pelfrey says judges in the county and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm have pushed for diversion programs and more “community corrections” options that allow offenders to serve their sentences on work release or home detention (with electronic monitoring).
Raemisch says he’s seen support for such approached statewide. “There are a large number of innovative sheriffs in Wisconsin, and you find a lot of innovative release programs,” he says.
He also credits the state’s focus on reentry programs for reducing recidivism. The focus needs to be on drug and alcohol treatment, education and job skills, he says. “There’s really no secret to turning these individuals around.”
The state also began an early-release program in January for nonviolent offenders nearing the ends of their sentences. Some Milwaukee leaders, including Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn, objected to it, saying that many of these offenders would wind up back on the city’s streets to commit more crimes.
Pelfrey says the era of long sentences for nonviolent offenders appears to be coming to a close, and prison populations are declining as a result. “The perception is that people who go to prison are dangerous, violent offenders, but that’s the exception, not the rule,” he says. Most committed property offenses (such as theft or burglary) to make money for illegal drugs.
States are also beginning to realize how expensive such policies can be. “The financial toll on states is phenomenal,” according to Pelfrey.
Raemisch says the department commissioned a study that, in 2008, recommended the department find ways to curb the flow of inmates into its prisons. The continuation of the status quo, the study found, would cost the state $1.2 billion by 2018.
“That was a roadmap of where we don’t want to be,” he says. Raemisch says that status quo is already changing, and the state is avoiding the increases in prisoners the study warned would be so costly.
Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, says the reductions in the state prison population may be due to changing demographics: There are now fewer males between the ages of 16 and 25, and consequently fewer crimes being committed.
NewsBuzz has also covered a similar decline in juvenile incarcerations in the state. Read the story here. In crafting a new state budget next year, Gov. Scott Walker could choose to close one of the state’s boys’ schools, possibly the one in Wales in Waukesha County. Raemisch says he recommended to the new administration that it close one of the facilities but says he didn’t specify which one.
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.