Rock County sheriff’s officials say they don’t think public safety was compromised after they allowed more people to leave the jail on electronic monitoring bracelets in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic.
And Sheriff Troy Knudson said Wednesday that he asked for more funds in the budget next year to get more bracelets.
Back in March, jail officials saw the potential danger of COVID-19 spread through the work-release program, known as Huber. Inmates who are on work release would be coming and going each day, perhaps bringing the virus into the jail.
The sheriff’s office decided to let those who were working under the Huber program leave on electronic monitoring.
“I think with this forced experiment, we’re able to see that we didn’t have the dire circumstances that some people may have predicted by putting too many people out on the bracelet,” Knudson said last week during a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting with other Rock County officials.
Between March 17 and June 19, the jail placed 109 inmates on electronic monitoring. Seventy-one of them—almost two-thirds—would not have been eligible under normal criteria.
Of those 71, only 12—or slightly under 17%—returned to the jail because of a rules violation or arrest, according to sheriff’s office data.
A sheriff’s office report included a breakdown of the reasons each of those 12 people returned to the jail, and most of them were for drug or alcohol consumption.
Knudson pointed out in an email Wednesday that, “The vast majority of those (12) were very minor violations that did not impact public safety.”
“Additionally, it is certainly possible that some of those violations may have occurred anyway if they would have participated in the more traditional Huber program,” he said.
One of the offenses, however, was an incident involving battery, disorderly conduct and damage to property, which the sheriff said last week was “probably the more serious issue” that brought someone back to jail.
Cmdr. Erik Chellevold guessed that the rate of inmates being brought back during that three-month period was slightly higher than normal, although he did not have an exact rate to use for comparison.
Still, he said it was not a substantial difference.
“At this point, what we’re experiencing is not alarming to us,” he said. “And we are comfortable with the alterations we made to the requirements.”
Both Knudson and Chellevold also said electronic monitoring offers a better way to track people than Huber. The sheriff’s office can make calls to check if people made it to their workplaces on a given day, but that isn’t the same as having the bracelet’s location, they said.
“It’s always a good idea if you can have somebody that’s working, being at home, being with family, being able to keep their family together and supported,” Chellevold said. “As long as they do their part, we’ll do ours.”
Kelly Mattingly, a defense attorney who heads the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, said he supports getting more bracelets for the sheriff’s office.
Faun Moses, who heads the local state public defender’s office, also said at the Sept. 17 meeting that she supports expanding the list of who is eligible to be released on electronic monitoring.
The criteria before the pandemic, in part, excluded inmates with drug-related felonies (other than THC), sex-related felonies, child sexual assault cases, intoxicated driving as a sixth offense or more or contempt charges.
If most people are being brought back to jail for alcohol or drug use, Moses asked, could the county connect them with additional substance abuse services?
Chellevold said he did not have updated data on the months since mid-June, but he has not been told that the trend is any different now.
Recently, Chellevold said the sheriff’s office had about 50 to 70 people out on the bracelet per day. They don’t typically have many bracelets sitting around and not being used because there’s a fee for having them, he said.
At one point, however, he said they had a peak of about 100 or 110 people on the bracelets.
Even if COVID-19 is not as prevalent next year, Knudson still believes the sheriff’s office will expand its use of electronic monitoring instead of keeping inmates in jail.
“What I took out of it is, maybe we aren’t going to need so many Huber beds. Maybe we’ll need a few more bracelets moving forward,” Knudson said last week. “Maybe we can afford to be a little less conservative with our decision as to who can go back out into the community.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Janesville has expanded its hours and services to students amid the pandemic-related closures of two city schools.
The club temporarily closed this spring when the governor’s safer-at-home order closed schools across the state. It reopened this summer.
Now, with Roosevelt Elementary School closed, the club has expanded its offerings to members who attend the school.
“We really wanted to try and support the district’s efforts that they’re doing all school day long,” local club CEO Rebecca Veium said.
In a normal school year, the central clubhouse at 200 W. Court St. is available from 3 to 6 p.m. for after-school activities, and an additional offsite program is held at Jackson Elementary School. Buses typically transport students to these two sites.
Now, the Boys & Girls Club is operating out of the clubhouse from noon to 6 p.m. for Roosevelt students and has satellite sites at Jackson and Lincoln elementary schools.
About 42 elementary school students and nine middle school students currently attend the club, about half of last year’s numbers.
Morgan Faherty, a second-grader at Roosevelt, took a break from her math homework Wednesday to tell The Gazette about school at the Boys & Girls Club while her usual school is closed.
Faherty is one of five Roosevelt students who has been learning at the club during the school’s closure.
“My dad is really proud of me because I get all of my work done every day here,” she said with a smile.
Faherty said she misses seeing her friends at school, but she said she enjoys learning at the Boys & Girls Club “because they help me do all of my homework.”
The club helps the students from Roosevelt log in to their devices and complete homework, check deadlines, supervise homework and assist with any technical difficulties.
At around 3 p.m., the club begins to offer its traditional programming, which includes providing a snack, allowing for free play time and general enrichment educational activities in areas such as literacy, math, healthy lifestyles, character development and other topics.
The club employs two development staff members at each site and has added staff to help navigate the pandemic. Typically, the club aims for a staff-to-student ratio of 1 to 18, but this fall the ratio has been lower at about one teacher per 10 students.
Raanan Morgensen is a sophomore at ARISE Virtual Academy, the Janesville School District’s virtual school. He goes to the Boys & Girls Club each week for reliable internet and help with homework in his first year at ARISE.
“Home can be a very distracting environment to work, but when I’m here, it has no distractions unless some outside influences have been distracting me,” he said as he laughed and looked toward a room where students from Van Buren were.
Veium said a teacher recently reached out to say thank you because they could see a positive difference in one student thanks to the Boys & Girls Club program.
As students navigate learning online, giving them a place for support is essential, Veium said.
“We know that we’re really adding value to what the district is offering and really helping to make sure that the kids have a way and a support system to be able to get these assignments done so that they don’t fall behind,” she said.
The crown jewel of the Rock County Historical Society, a 163-year-old Italianate mansion, will overlook a rummage sale Saturday in an effort to keep the lights and heat on this winter.
The organization, which runs the Lincoln-Tallman House attraction, is in “precarious” financial straits and might face a temporary shutdown, Executive Director Tim Maahs said.
The money problems stem from the social limitations of the coronavirus.
Schools canceled their student tours, which would have brought in $12,000 to $15,000.
The society had to cancel fundraisers. Those events would have brought in about $200,000, Maahs said.
That’s a big bite out of an operating budget that was about $600,000 last year. The society has furloughed its two full-time, two permanent part-time and two seasonal part-time workers. Some are now donating their time, Maahs said.
Most of the 200 volunteers are no longer working, and that includes research services, he said.
Maahs continues to receive a salary, reduced by 25%. He said he would be uncomfortable revealing what he earns. No employee receives any benefits aside from vacations, he said.
Maahs said the organization has come up with new ways to raise money, including the yard sale.
Other fundraising innovations include a series of “Artrageous” events. Local artists sell their wares, musicians play, and a food truck and drinks are available on the grounds, where people can maintain their virus-safe distances.
The Artrageous idea sprang from one of the summer cancellations, the annual Tallman Arts Festival. Maahs said the new series gives the artists an outlet they lost to the pandemic and an income to the society. No entry fee is charged. Maahs said he didn’t think that would be appropriate during this stressful time.
Maahs said he hopes the yard sale will keep the lights on until the spring.
He has heard of other historical societies closing.
“We won’t let that happen here,” Maahs said. “It may be dormant for some time.”
That means closing for months if enough money can’t be raised. A skeletal staff would keep the buildings safe and bills paid. Tours and research services would end.
“If we’re not able to get some more grant funding or COVID-response funding, there’s a high likelihood that could happen,” Maahs said.
The society continues to earn money from tours, but the demand has slowed to a trickle because of the pandemic. All tours are now appointment-only.
That’s a shame because a recent grant paid for restoring some Tallman House rooms, and items long held in storage are now on display, Maahs said.
Some who have taken tours have remarked that it’s like seeing rooms that the family vacated minutes ago, he said.
Maahs said he is hearing comments comparing the Tallman House favorably to Milwaukee’s Pabst Mansion.
A similar situation is happening with the Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center next door to the Tallman House.
Staff members and summer interns have expanded exhibits to offer more of a museum experience. That includes bringing about 2,500 items out of storage. Some of those haven’t been seen in years, and some never, Maahs said.
The museum center, once free, now charges a $10 admission fee.
The improvements and changes in fundraising events are key to new ways of running the society in the pandemic era and beyond, Maahs said. But he doesn’t expect much change in coronavirus restrictions until this time next year.
“We’re hoping we can find some grant sources that will help us continue that work so in the post-pandemic world this is a regional—and even farther—attraction,” Maahs said.
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