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Sheriff Clarke Reinvents The Wheel, Makes It Square

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on July 9, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

For years, the House of Correction, currently called Community Correction Center – South, offered various programs for the inmates who wanted to participate in them.

Almost everyday, inmates had an hour of recreation, which usually was lifting weights, playing basketball or walking laps around the gym.  There were job training opportunities in the print shop and in the welding area.  They also had the opportunity to work either in the kitchen, in the laundry, as part of the cleaning crew or on the farm and fish hatchery.

Younger inmates who hadn’t finished school had a chance to work on their GED.  There were alcohol and drug abuse therapy courses.  Volunteers from the community would come in for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups.  Other community volunteers would come in for weekly Bible study groups.

Occasionally, a choir group would come in to give a special presentation, usually around the holidays.

Over time, due to budget cuts and staff cuts, and inept management, some of these programs were scaled back greatly, if not eliminated altogether.

But as I noted earlier, not everyone participated in these programs.  Some inmates chose to try to sleep their time away.  Others were physically or emotionally or behaviorally unable to participate in these activities.  Sometimes, their criminal histories prevented them from being candidates for these programs, especially the work details.

Now, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sheriff Clarke wants to do away with some of the programs that he doesn’t feel is being productive and replace them with a boot camp type of program the he is calling “Discipline, Order, Training and Structure.”

From an article that appeared six months ago, we know what programs Clarke was considering cutting:

Clarke’s plan succeeds a handful of long-tenured inmate rehabilitation programs the sheriff is ending in a few weeks in a budget-cutting move. The canceled programs include inmate assessments, job skill training, print shop training and alcohol treatment. Clarke said last week he was dropping those as part of a solution to a nearly $5 million shortfall in his 2010 budget. Dropping the inmate rehab programs would save about $350,000.

The older article goes on to tell of how this raised many red flags for the County Board Supervisors.

Even then, doubt was being shown about how successful such a program could be:

Boot camps combine military-type training with some rehabilitation. A 2003 U.S. Justice Department report found short-term improvement in attitude, behavior and skills, but little drop in recidivism.

Undaunted by the facts, Clarke chose to pursue this very plan.  What he is proposing to replace the print shop jobs, jobs training and alcohol treatment with include these:

Clarke said he wants to dump less-successful programs and use the savings to help cover minimal costs of the boot camp program.

He wants some new classes on anger management, choosing friends, Bible study and “cognitive intervention.”


But he’s not sugarcoating what it will be like: 5 a.m. wakeup calls; early morning runs; and fitness training, work detail, education and job training classes. Lights out at 9:30 p.m.

Team competition in physical and mental training designed to “push each person to achieve group success” are key elements of the program.

An incentive system will be used to enforce rules, with privileges such as television or visitation revoked for infractions. The boot camp experience is aimed at building character, Clarke said. Inmates who go through it won’t ever want to come back, he said.

In other words, what Clarke is proposing is to eliminate the job training and education opportunities, therapy type of activities and recreation and replace them with job training and education opportunities, therapy type of activities and recreation.  But he would make them less appealing and less likely that people would want to participate in them.

But he has that figured out as well.  He wants the judges to issue their sentences in such a way to allow the inmate a choice between participating in the boot camp or to have a harsher sentence, presumably having more time added on.  He figures this is all the incentive the inmates would need.

Considering how most of the inmates are repeat offenders and already have done lots of time, I don’t know how adding another month to their sentence is going to intimidate them much.

The scariest part of this story, which is chock full of scary parts, is what Clarke has to say if the judges don’t want to play along with his scheme:

The sheriff dropped hints earlier about his boot camp idea, but has not yet consulted with judges, prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system. He plans to formally roll out the plan soon and said he hopes to get other officials to buy in. If not, he’ll impose it anyway, Clarke said.

“With my constitutional authority, if I have to, I’ll do it unilaterally,” he said.

Sounds like he is relying more on bravado than brains regarding this issue.

Clarke is pursuing this even though a number of experts have expressed serious doubt and concern over whether this could work and if it is really such a good idea.

Clarke was so upset about these doubters that he had to fire off an email to Charlie Sykes on Tuesday morning, complaining bitterly about anyone that would cast aspersion on his idea.

Hmmm.  Must be an election year for Clarke as well.


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