Milwaukee County explores electronic monitoring as a secure alternative to detention facilities
The proposal calls for the safe reduction of the County’s incarcerated population by enabling individuals in the justice system to maintain employment and connection to community.
Building on long-term efforts to build a fairer and more effective justice system, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and the House of Correction today announced a proposal to expand the electronic monitoring program at House of Correction and transition eligible individuals in two phases.
In this proposal, individuals transitioned to the electronic monitoring program would reside in a personal residence and be monitored through a global positioning system (GPS) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
“Electronic monitoring is a secure alternative to incarceration that allows people to access the resources and maintain the support they need for rehabilitation,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “This proposal builds on the work we are doing to ensure our residents have access to the programs and services they need to lead healthy and productive lives.”
Since 2011, the approach in Milwaukee County has shifted to promote rehabilitation over incarceration. Building on data-driven and successful criminal justice reform initiatives, the electronic monitoring proposal will advance the mission to provide individuals with access to employment, public transportation and social support while ensuring public safety.
Transitioning to electronic monitoring has been effective for public safety, and for individuals in the justice system. Under the current Huber work release program, individuals convicted of low-level offenses are eligible to leave the facility during the day for jobs and other commitments and return at night.
Individuals are enabled to leave for up to 16 hours a day before returning to House of Correction. The individuals in the Huber work release program often face transportation barriers when traveling between their place of employment and House of Correction. Transitioning to the electronic monitoring program will help mitigate these transportation barriers.
“The expansion of the electronic monitoring program is a critical next step in the process to ensure better public safety while helping individuals access the services and programs they need to be a contributing, productive member of our community,” said Michael Hafemann, Milwaukee County House of Correction Superintendent. “Our families, our neighborhoods and our economy all benefit when these individuals achieve independence and lead responsible, crime-free lives.”
The program is expected to reduce costs at House of Correction by more than $1.7 million per year. Under this proposal, the House of Correction will save costs by closing Huber dormitories, reallocating staff resources to general population program needs, and reducing overtime needs for correctional officers.
In the first phase of this proposal, the more than 100 individuals currently housed in Huber dormitories at the House of Correction will transition to the electronic monitoring program. Those individuals are currently released every day for employment, childcare assistance, eldercare treatment, job training programs, educational opportunities, participation in the Milwaukee County Day Reporting Center and other commitments as allowed by the Huber Law statute. Under the proposal, these individuals will be supervised by electronic monitoring and reside in their homes instead of the Huber dormitories.
In the second phase of this proposal, individuals who are currently eligible but not taking advantage of the Huber work release program will be considered for transfer to electronic monitoring on an individual case by case basis. These individuals must meet stringent guidelines to be eligible to transition into the electronic monitoring program, including: having a job, enrolling in and completing a job training or apprentice program, enrolling in the Day Reporting Center (DRC) program, enrolling in an educational program, or participating in applicable programs that are shown to help with the rehabilitation of individuals.
The electronic monitoring program establishes conditions for participating individuals, including home confinement, work travel and other commitments. In some cases, individuals will be continuously monitored for alcohol. Program participants will check-in weekly with a caseworker at Wisconsin Community Services, the electronic monitoring program provider.
“Effective alternatives to incarceration should hold offenders accountable, improve and maintain community safety, and reduce taxpayer costs,” said Clarence Johnson, Executive Director of Wisconsin Community Services. “Based on our recent an extensive history providing electronic monitoring services, we believe that it is one of the best and most cost-effective justice strategies available and Milwaukee County will benefit from expanding this program.”
Wisconsin Community Services caseworkers will ensure eligible individuals have safe, stable housing and are enrolled in healthcare, either through private or public. Under the proposal, participating individuals will have access to community-based programs and treatment at Milwaukee County’s Day Reporting Center and facilities across the county.
The proposal is a phased and carefully planned approach. It will be vetted and finalized with stakeholders including community members, the Milwaukee County Board, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney, local judges and others to ensure public safety and provide participating individuals with a tangible opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the community.
County Executive Abele submitted the 2020 recommended budget proposal to the County Board of Supervisors on October 1. The proposed 2020 budget is balanced, and bolsters bus services that residents expect, builds on homeless services initiatives and expands investments to promote racial equity.
In 2018, more than 875 individuals were part of the electronic monitoring program and more than 94 percent of participants remained successfully in the program until their release from custody. None of the individuals removed from the program left due to violations of the law or for committing new offenses. The less than 50 individuals lost electronic monitoring privileges due to violations in program rules or conditions imposed by the sentencing court.
Transitioning from work release to electronic monitoring has been in place in other Wisconsin Counties. The transition to electronic monitoring from the process of releasing inmates every day from county jail or a house of correction has been in place since 2005 in La Crosse County, and since 2018 in Monroe County.
Milwaukee County has long been recognized for criminal justice innovation and collaboration. Since 2011, the county has redesigned its system to integrate risk and needs assessments; implemented evidence-based strategies for pretrial supervision and early intervention programs; and launched programs to invest in common sense solutions to responsibly reduce unnecessary use of the jail.
Expanding on these efforts, the MacArthur Foundation awarded a $2 million Safety and Justice Challenge grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to reexamine the use of the local jail. Within two years of implementing the grant, Milwaukee County announced a 10 percent reduction in the jail population. Efforts to lessen the jail population were based on a trauma-informed approach, with focus on ensuring public safety will making the justice system fairer and more effective.
During the same time period, Milwaukee County has committed to changing the youth justice system. In 2011, the development and implementation of a community-based, best-practice approach was launched. Prioritizing education, addressing mental health and trauma for individuals and communities, and building job skills, shifts the focus from a system of punishment to one of rehabilitation. Mitigating the trauma of confinement and separation from family contributes to neighborhoods safer, builds stronger community bonds and ensures that all children in Milwaukee County thrive in strong, positive communities.
The Milwaukee County approach has been recognized by national leaders including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Vanderbilt University and the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice.