Wisconsin Officials Confident in New Release Program

Twenty-one Wisconsin inmates were released last Tuesday as part of a new plan to save money and reduce overcrowding in prisons. But many in the state say it won't have the same problems Illinois' MGT push program did.
"When you look at the Illinois system and you look at what happened there obviously there was a lack of checks and balances, obviously there were some mistakes made," said Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden.
Wisconsin calls it an earned release program. Inmates earn credit through good behavior; working time off through community and state service projects and getting involved in rehabilitation programs.
"It's not that you're getting out early, you're actually having to earn that through various programs that the state offers at prison, it's earned through good positive behavior," Spoden said.
Violent offenders are not eligible for the Wisconsin program. Spoden points out most of those considered are in the final years of their sentences and are already taking part in community service. In Illinois, 56 of the 1,700 freed prisoners have ended up again behind bars; 18 were arrested for new offenses, and the rest violated parole. Because of checks and balances put into place with Wisconsin's program, Spoden believes those released are less likely to offend.
"Usually it takes about six different reviews before a decision is made whether or not they are going to be qualified for the program, they're going to get out of prison and we can either give them the services and knowledge to succeed or they are going to re-offend," Spoden said.
Rock County has already seen a lot of success saving money and prison space through alternative programs, like its weekender work release initiative. Because of these alternatives Spoden says the county went from having to build a new sixty million dollar jail, to just an eight million dollar remodeling.
More Wisconsin inmates could be released in the future under the new program. In Illinois, the department of correction's meritorious credit program is undergoing an evaluation by a criminal justice expert.

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