A comment in an Isthmus election story has exposed a major rift between Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Dane County judges over the sheriff's policy of using electronic monitoring to house some inmates in their homes.
The article ("A Shootout for Dane County Sheriff, 10/15/10) noted that Mahoney's Republican challenger, Shawn Haney, accused him of relaxing standards for who is allowed out on electronic monitoring, instead of being kept in jail. Mahoney defended the program, saying judges decide who can participate.
That claim drew a sharp response from the judges. A letter signed by Chief Judge Bill Foust and backed by 14 other judges (the entire Dane County roster, except Amy Smith and Juan Colas) calls Mahoney's representation "simply not correct." The judges say the sheriff is releasing people convicted of offenses like repeat drunk driving against their wishes.
"The Dane County judges and others believe that mandatory incarceration in jail for repeat drunk driving is an important response to individuals who continue to put our community at jeopardy," says the letter (see here). "Sheriff Mahoney disagrees."
Mahoney says he only uses electronic monitoring for certain inmates who have been sentenced with Huber privileges, which allow them to leave jail for work, school, medical or family reasons.
"If you don't want them out at all, don't give them Huber," Mahoney says. He adds that if a judge gives a split sentence, where Huber privileges kick in only after a certain time, he would respect that and keep inmates in jail until then.
Circuit Court Judge Sarah O'Brien, a prime mover behind the letter, says judges give Huber privileges so inmates can work to pay child support and get treatment. But she says Mahoney "uses his own screening measures to decide who goes to [electronic monitoring]" that are more liberal than the judges would like.
As the judges' letter says, "Dane County judges believe that, as a rule, jail sentences should be spent in jail, and not at home on electronic monitoring."