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Wisconsin Parole Hampered by Prison Bureaucrats

An “irrational” and unaccountable system is preventing Wisconsin’s parole eligible prisoners from satisfying requirements to merit release on parole.

About 15% of Wisconsin’s more than 32,000 prisoners have sentences that allow them to be paroled. They are the remnant that lingers in the state’s prisons prior to the January 1, 2000 implementation of a truth in sentencing law, which requires prisoners to serve every day of the sentence imposed by a judge. The law applies to all crimes.

The approximate 2,800 prisoners, who are parole eligible, including 400 at minimum security prisons, cost about $100 million annually to house. Under the law at the time of their sentencing, they become eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. They must be released upon serving two-thirds of their time.

Once they reach the 25% threshold, parole commissioners decide their fate. The commissioners’ power is limited to truly eligible for parole, prisoners must meet certain standards, such as taking substance abuse programs and good performance in a minimum security setting.

Therein lies the quandary, Prisoners may only meet those standards if placed in the required settings by the program review committee at their prison. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) created the administrative rule that established those committees.

That rule lists virtually no standards for membership. There must be at least two members, one of which holds a “classification specialists” position a job that requires an exam but no specific education or work experience. The committees are accountable to no one outside the system.

 “The process in place now is completely irrational,” said former Department of Justice administrator Jerry Hancock. “It doesn’t enhance public safety and it wastes a huge amount of money.”

The situation perturbs even parole commissioners. Hopefully we can work together, but let’s be real: We don’t always agree on every single case. And I have to respect that,” Parole Commissioner Steven Landreman said of the parole board’s relationship with the committees. “If they don’t agree with me today, I maybe hope six months from now they’ll agree.”

The program review committees utilize the two-thirds threshold rather than the 25% to determine programming priority. Programs, therefore, become a priority for those with smaller sentences, which is the case for most non-parole eligible prisoners.

 “I believed in the parole system, and I believe if they did well in prison they would be seriously considered for parole,” said Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher. “Under old sentencing practices, we took that into consideration. We gave longer terms at that time because we expected they could be parole. Now, the sentences are shorter because we believe they are going to serve each and every day of the sentence.

WDOC issued a report on the issue. “The report highlights the fact that 95 percent of the ‘close to 3,000 parole-eligible inmates’ cited by wisdom are still serving time for violent offenses,” Gov. Walkers spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, wrote in an email.

 “They were violent criminals,” said David Liners Executive Director of WISDOM, a group of faith leaders. “The question is: Are they still?”

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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