Incarceration is the program that fails most often

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Joel McNally
Monday, October 22, 2007

When future historians try to figure out how America, the land of the free, came to lock up more of its citizens than any other nation in the history of the world, they might want to examine the cowardice of Milwaukee County politicians.

Politicians are absolutely terrified they might be blamed for any crimes committed by anyone unincarcerated. They go wobbly with fear whenever they are asked to close down any institution of incarceration, no matter how outdated and worthless.

One of the few politicians to show any courage at all on this issue turns out to be one of the most conservative, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

As part of Walkerís continuing dismantling of county government, he has proposed shutting down the Milwaukee County Community Corrections Center, a facility that locks up 350 people every night after releasing them for work during the day.

These are the so-called Huber Law prisoners in Milwaukee County. The Huber Law, passed by progressives in the Legislature in 1913, locks up people at night while letting them out during the day to work to earn money to pay their fines and support their families.

Today, there are plenty of reasons to shut down the Community Corrections Center, both financial and humanitarian. Needless to say, the financial reasons resonate far more with politicians than any concern about humanity.

Walker estimates shutting the center would save $2.5 million a year in payroll costs for correctional officers. Even more important, the center is right next to the proposed residential and commercial redevelopment at the former Pabst Brewery.

Clearing the property would certainly increase the value of the entire neighborhood.

The same is true of removing the environmental blight that is the Community Corrections Center. Thatís the other side of the story. The CCC is no place any human being should be housed or any county employee should be required to work.

Walker understates the case when he says: ďItís a dive, a total dive.Ē

The building is a roach-infested former hospital that has been the subject of complaints for years about mold, the aroma of raw sewage, dangerous wiring and generally unsanitary conditions.

Consider also that the inmates housed in the Community Corrections Center are those who are considered so little threat to the community that they are released every day. Jailed for nonviolent offenses, they are prisoners who work and travel throughout the community every day. They essentially have been sentenced to returning to the CCC at the end of the day to get a really rotten nightís sleep.

That does not mean, of course, that no crimes will ever be committed by those who are released during the day from the CCC. Even heavily guarded prisoners in maximum-security prisons can and do commit heinous crimes, including murder.

Thatís apparently what happened about a month ago when Freddie T. Dudley had a fellow inmate forge his signature on a sign-in sheet, indicating he had returned to the CCC. Dudley then stayed out all night and, by his own confession, shot and killed a man trying to buy drugs in a robbery attempt.

With the murder coming at the very time the closing of the CCC is being discussed, county politicians are all shaky about shutting down the facility and allowing all the inmates out on GPS monitoring, as Walker has proposed.

But Walker correctly points out that GPS monitoring would do a better job of tracking those on work release than the CCC apparently does now.

It will be a major accomplishment if Walker succeeds in using sensational headlines about a murder to shut down a deplorable incarceration facility. Any community program set up as an alternative to incarceration lives in constant fear that one of its participants will commit a horrible crime. That closes down an alternative program instantly.

Yet, incarceration is the program that fails most often. It has the highest rate of recidivism because it returns offenders to the community more unemployable and often more dangerous than they were before.

Itís time we started shutting down outdated, inhumane incarceration facilities instead of continually expanding them.

Last updated: 4:10 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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