Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


County executive proposes funding for chemical-dependant prisoners

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk announced a $1 million plan last week to research and establish facilities and programs to treat prison inmates with substance-abuse problems.

The proposal is part of the 2002 budget Falk presented to the County Board on Oct. 1. The plan is designed to combat overcrowding in the Dane County Jail by reducing the number of recidivists, or repeat offenders, who commit crimes related to drugs and alcohol.

“Too many people in our jail are there because they abuse alcohol or other drugs,” Falk said. “My proposal will fund the planning of the facilities and programs needed for these inmates to have the treatment and accountability to turn their lives around.”

Since 1998 Dane County has seen a 67 percent increase in arrests for repeat drunk drivers. Furthermore, data from the county estimates that approximately 30 percent of inmates have a drug- or alcohol-related offense on their record.

“Our problem is that we have the same people using prison beds over and over . . . we release them and then see them one or two or eight months later,” Falk’s chief of staff Topf Wells said. “If we provide treatment and reduce recidivism, we will be able to reduce the number of people in our jails.”

Roughly $250,000 is allocated to research various inmate treatment programs.

“The first part of the plan is to determine how many maximum, medium, and minimum security beds are needed,” Wells said.

The remaining money will be used for designing and implementing the proposed facilities and programs.

“These plans will be for a combination of facilities and programs to add up to 300 beds to our overcrowded jail system,” Falk said. “Other communities have used this approach as a cost-effective way to reduce recidivism, and help prevent overcrowding in the future.”

Baltimore County, Md. is one such community currently using an alternative treatment facility for the prevention of repeat DWI offenders. Opened in 1994, the DWI Correctional Treatment Facility currently holds 100 minimum-security beds. The program costs $1.5 million per year to run, and the county is responsible for maintenance costs.

Studies show inmates who complete the program are considerably less likely to be arrested again. One year after successfully completing the program, only 4 percent of offenders had been re-arrested, compared with the normal rate of 35 percent for repeat DWI offenders in Maryland.

Falk’s plan is intended to be a cost-effective counterproposal to Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin’s proposal to add three new stories to the Dane County jail.

“The sheriff’s proposal for expansion would cost at least $40 million,” Wells said. “And that is only construction; it doesn’t include the cost of increasing staff.”

Hamblin’s supporters believe his plan is superior to Falk’s proposal because it deals with the overcrowding problem immediately. They said the jail was originally designed to have the three additional floors.

Proponents of Hamblin’s plan also believe that it will save time and money by coordinating the expansion of both the courthouse and the jail. This offers the additional benefit of allowing planners to make the two buildings work together, facilitating transfer of inmates between the two buildings.

Wells went on to say that each new deputy added is budgeted for $55,000-$65,000, and a fair number of new deputies will be needed to staff the three additional stories called for in the sheriff’s plan.

In addition to fighting overcrowding and recidivism, Falk’s proposal is intended to improve public safety. Aside from dealing with the threat of habitual drunk drivers, the program also provides treatment for other inmates who commit other drug- and alcohol-related crimes.

“[The program] will better protect the rest of us who might otherwise suffer from these people who drive drunk, steal to support an addiction, or lose self-control when high or intoxicated,” Falk said.

Wells recalled a story in which a man was arrested for beating a woman with a hammer.

It turned out that the man had been in and out of jail for minor alcohol-related offenses for 10-15 years without receiving treatment.

“Had the man received the treatment he needed, that horrible incident could possibly have been avoided,” Wells said.

Falk’s proposal is expected to be debated by the County Board for several months before it is approved or rejected.

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