On August 8, 750 of my neighbors filled St. Maria Goretti Catholic church here on the southwest side of Madison with their outrage over misplaced priorities. They said we're fed up with crime in our neighborhoods. We want more police, not trolley cars.
Within weeks, Madison neighborhoods from the southwest side to the northeast side exploded with similar exhortations. The Police Chief responded with a request for 30 additional police, the mayor dropped his trolleys and the Common Council, except for Progressive Dane, sent in the surge.
So where is our Dane County Board during all this? They are back in the 1960s. They are grooving on ditch weed. They are holding thumb and index fingers together and chanting "Om" while the candle dribbles wax down the Mateus bottle. Because, while the city is getting serious about cleaning up our streets, the county is sending law breakers right back into the community. This is what we call "failure to communicate."
The new sheriff, Dave Mahoney, wants to quadruple the number of law breakers sent back into the community on ankle bracelets -- from 50 last year (and 40 in 2006) to 200 by this summer. He calls it "electronic monitoring."
At the same time, Dane County is bringing up to 200 inmates now jailed in other counties back to Dane County, thereby freeing up $3.5 million spent annually to house and transport those inmates elsewhere.
Do not for one minute think that is a coincidence. The contracts with the 12 or so counties housing those prisoners have been canceled or allowed to expire. The inmates will be back in town by July 1. Talk about a long, hot summer!
Where will we put these repatriated lawbreakers? They cannot be housed in the Ferris Huber Center -- that is the most minimal of security. That wreck of a place, just off Rimrock Road on the Alliant Energy Center grounds (where it is badly misplaced) is being phased out. Nor can the bad guys be jailed in the Public Safety building -- that was built for minimum/medium security inmates, as well. (Guards actually walk among the inmates in "pods.")
The Dane County Criminal Justice System Assessment released last summer found that these prisoners being returned to Dane county averaged 6.5 criminal charges each, including felonies and misdemeanors. In other words, these 200 inmates returning to Dane County are too dangerous for anything but "hard cells" -- that is to say, maximum security.
I can also report that our circuit court judges are worried.
- They have been trying now for over two months to get some kind of guidelines from Sheriff Mahoney about who he might release and when he might release a lawbreaker that has just been sentenced to jail. The judges are said to be very frustrated, because, right now, when a judge sentences someone to a year in jail, the new sheriff could release them in 48 hours.
- They are particularly worried that drivers convicted of multiple drunk driving convictions will be released.
- It is so bad that judges are sentencing some defendants to prison where the rules are known rather than to the county jail where it is anyone's guess.
I am acting as an unpaid consultant to County Board candidates in the current campaign. And worth every penny!
Not a panacea
I e-mailed District Attorney Brian Blanchard about this issue and he e-mailed back:
For certain kinds of cases, ... for example, victims in some Domestic Violence cases may be better off, and feel better off, with defendants on active GPS, with a monitored "safety zone" for the victim, if the alternative is Huber.
Fair enough. Ankle bracelets, electronic monitoring, have their place. But they are one tool, not a panacea to the county's failure to plan for the future of a county that will add 124,000 residents in the next 25 years.
And how, Blaska's Blog asks, does an ankle bracelet preventsome neighborhood lout from:
- Walking down the middle of the street like Mr. Bigshot?
- Cursing just outside your bedroom window while you are trying to sleep?
- Scratching graffiti on your building, and...
- Throwing his empty liquor bottles onto your parking lot?
- Operating his open air drug bazaar?
His deputies are restive
The people who have to enforce this nightmarish policy are the most concerned. The sheriff's deputies union has put out a candidate questionnaire to prospective County Board members. It asks: "Should Dane County continue to fully implement the electronic monitoring program for 200+ prisoners returning from other county jails?"
That is what is called a leading question. Why ask the question if there are no problems? Incumbent supervisors who have already talked to the deputies tell me the deputies put the number of inmates who can safely be released on bracelets at 100 -- not 200.
Just as clearly, the Deputies are advocating for increased hard jail space. That is to say, tightly secured. Their questionnaire asks: "When Dane County authorized the one-half percent county sales tax several years ago, it was to be used for the county jail. Do you favor designation of these funds [Note: Worth an estimated $44.6 million this year!] for:
- Construction of two additional security floors on top of the public safety building, with one for maximum security; and
- Related law enforcement purposes and operations?
Those are what are called "leading questions." They virtually beg "yes" answers.
District Attorney worried, too
While careful to express the positive in his on-the-record response, district attorney Blanchard said this:
I have the same basic concern that I think the Sheriff and the judges share, namely how far can the DCSO (Dane County Sheriff's Office) take its Electronic Monitoring Program (EMP) consistent with public safety and enforcement of the law? ...
It is an open question ... how far DCSO can take the numbers even with their professional and diligent efforts. It depends on critical factors DCSO has little or no control over, such as the willingness of inmates to take the bracelet in lieu of straight jail, failure rates on the bracelet, and crime trends, which fluctuate based on demographic factors that include the numbers of 17-25 year olds in the county each year and levels of unemployment, homelessness, treatment availability for AODA and mental health, etc."
The conclusion I draw is that the expanded ankle bracelet program is all about balancing Kathleen Falk's budget on the back of community safety.
There is a reason why WIBA radio's Vicki McKenna and Brian Schimming have taken to calling our new sheriff, "Sheriff Falk." He thinks he owes his election to her and has allowed this very political creature, the Hillary Clinton of Dane County (she's a backer), to dictate that politics should trump good law enforcement. The $3.5 million spent to transport and house prisoners outside of Dane County has been taken away and spent outside of law enforcement.
Indeed, the sheriff's department budget has grown 3.5 percent over the last two years (to $59.0 million for 2008 from $57 million in 2006) compared to a 7.5 percent increase in the overall county budget ($439.8 million, up from 408.8 million in 2006).
Kathleen Falk, who ran for state attorney general as if she was running for her old job as environmental public intervener, was endorsed by the Sierra Club and other environmentalists but precious few sheriffs and district attorneys, now has more money to purchase green space.