Chisholm pushes for reforms
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday February 12, 2011
DAs plan calls for overhauling criminal justice system
By BRUCE VIELMETTI
Can we really improve public safety while sending fewer people to prison?
One of the state's top prosecutors thinks the answer is yes.
In a speech Friday at the Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm outlined a proposal to rethink the criminal justice sys¬tem, shifting some resources from the back end to the front, and saving the state millions in the long run.
His idea would expand "evidence-based decision making," give judges more options in sentencing and reimburse counties $15,000 for every offender they don't commit to prison, where it costs about $30,000 a year to house them.
"I make this offer to the governor and Legislature: Milwaukee will continue to reduce crime and reduce the numbers of people in prison, maybe even enough to justify closing a prison. In turn, we want the savings from our efforts rein¬vested in Milwaukee so we can continue to do what we know works best for us."
Chisholm said it has become clear around the country, even to conservatives, that taxpayers can no longer afford to be only tough on crime, especially when ways exist to be smart on crime.
"If they're serious (in Madison) about one of their biggest deficits, this is a real opportunity," Chisholm said after the speech. "People just have to start thinking about it."
The state will spend $1.2 billion this year to house about 23,000 inmates, 40 % of whom come from Milwaukee County.
There is no draft legislation or sponsor yet for what he calls the Community Justice Reinvestment Act, but Chisholm said the state departments of Justice and Corrections back the idea. And, he noted, Gov. Scott Walker, while he served as Milwaukee County executive, supported programs underpinning the proposal.
On Friday, Walker's staff was deep in budget news, and his spokesperson did not return an e-mail seeking comment. In his speech, Chisholm pointed to "evidence-based decision making" that has already led to better sharing of information about offenders in Milwaukee County. More information leads to more tailored, and therefore effective, decisions about offenders' sanctions, whether through specialty courts or other kinds of diversions, services and treatments.
Crime has been going down in Milwaukee, and there are 4,000 fewer cases on the dockets at the end of last year com¬pared with 2007, Chisholm pointed out. Yet costs keep rising at the Department of Corrections. Why? In part, IN part, because so many inmates wind up in prison after state corrections officials find them in violation of rules while on extended supervision, Chisholm said.
Much of that is because of the truth in sentencing law, which requires not only that convicted criminals serve their entire amount of their prison term but also a period of extended supervision in the community after release. Failure to meet a host of conditions can send the released convict back to prison.
Chisholm also called for judges, armed with more and better information about offenders, to craft sentences that would allow them to get out of prison sooner if they make certain progress and get other services.
Between 2000 and 2007 the number of people readmitted or sent to prison because they did not comply with the conditions of community supervision increased 40 %. The number admitted for new offenses while on supervision, however, actually decreased 11%, Chisholm said.
"I am not asking for tax in-creases or additional expenditures. I am asking to earn the right to control a portion of existing safety dollars by proving we can do a better job of keeping people safe and preventing repeat offenses by wisely using local resources in partnership with the state.