THE CONTINUED HARVESTING OF CITIZENS..........................by Chas. Anderson
In one of our recent articles, we tried to make the point that the prison-industrial complex was continually striving to create "customers" and concurrent jobs. What would the unemployment rate be if half of the men (and women) incarcerated in this state (and nation) were released to fend for themselves in society? There was a "token" attempt at this awhile back in the state of Wisconsin as a few "non-violent" offenders were released a few months early from their sentences. What real jobs are available to sustain these (former) citizens and also the laid-off public employees who used to tend them? Isn't that the stated goal of the new administration set to take over in Madison in early January, 201 I?
Creating jobs and trimming the state budget seem to be incompatible unless the new governor is a magician. That has actually been the previous plan as "creative Financing" has enabled the State Fiscal Bureau to mask the real debt that has been accruing over the past decade. We owe a debt to our Progressive tradition in Wisconsin but here is also a mandate to not burden our progeny with excessive debt for as Lincoln said in his first inaugural address: "(for we) drink from wells we did not dig and are warmed by fires we did not build" and thus we have the potential to leave a legacy of despair to future generations saddled with burdensome debt. The power of government can become excessive (as Obama's critics have continually contested) but the "cut & slash" politicians have no problem with the continued harvesting of citizens as pawns in both the welfare state and the prison-industrial complex. This (prison) industry has resulted in thousands of highly paid, union contracted jobs in the state—mostly in hard-pressed rural areas.
Is there little wonder that many ASFCME unionists did not vote to enable this new (frugal) administration. I remember when Jimmy Carter was elected President and he preached that the American taxpayers would have to make "sacrifices" so that the national budget would not bankrupt the country. The response: he was "thrown out" by the voters after one term.
It will be interesting to see if the new administration in Madison uses "their power" to invoke austere measures on the taxpaying citizens of this state. Where should he start? It seems the first order of business will be to reject the $810M in Federal Stimulus money earmarked for high-speed transit from Milwaukee to Madison. The Spanish company (125 jobs) that has the contract to build the trains has already threatened to relocate to Illinois. In recent years, taxes have been raised both directly and insidiously by various mandates and "user fees" which results in Wisconsin having one of the highest "percapita" tax rates in the nation.
Economics has a theory that an entity can borrow money at the current value of currency (what I mean is the net worth of the money in circulation) and then when it is time to pay back, one's access to more valuable money guarantees an easy pay back. For example, if your wages are $75,000 at present and you borrow $250,000 for a house, in ten years you will be making $125,000 and so the repayment is facilitated. That has been the government plan which enables them to exceed their revenue each year. This worked until the middle of Bill Clinton's term but in the intervening decade, this penchant for unlimited borrowing has led to a severe
recession and loss of tax revenue. People who are out of work and companies which are out of business do not pay taxes. At this point, the horizon for recovery is quite cloudy. It may take ten years. What, then, does our beloved Cheese State IF& WHEN it runs out of money. At this rate, it may not take long.
There is no question that painful cuts have to be made. In California, the outgoing governor proposed a $1B cut in services which included programs for school-age children coming off welfare, cuts in mental health services and special educations and also AIDS prevention and treatment. Similar to Wisconsin, they have instituted pay cuts in the form of "furlough" days and benefit reductions. State employee benefits and retire¬ment packages have always been generous in order to retain good workers who might be snatched away by the private sector. This is not true for public school teachers who far outpace the private sector. The process of attrition can be used to avoid painful layoffs but what the (state) employer is saying is that those remaining on the job will have to shoulder a higher burden. When four people are running an office that used to be staffed by five, the pressure grows and the process of exploitation begins. That has always been the benefit of unionization but that system has been curtailed in recent years. But, the government can't go out of business nor can its employees "strike" so the discussion reaches an impasse and budget deficits continue to mount as the state borrows more money each year at higher interest rates (because they now have a risky credit rating.)
How to proceed? Since both California and Wisconsin embarked on a prison building spree from 1990-2005, they are both stuck with numerous "white elephants," including SUPER MAX facilities (which are eminently expensive) and an even more ominous system called "civil commitment." Such was a traditional outlook in all states as the "State Hospital" served every community, paid for by the taxpayers who didn't want to deal with "mental illness" in the community. The current Mental Health Complex in Milwaukee Co. is beset with numerous problems and threatens to bankrupt the county. The residents cannot get federal assistance (SSI or SS retirement benefits because the Feds have issued a "Max: 16" provision for such benefits—mandating that recipients be housed "in the community" in order to qualify. So, the county (assisted by the state) is responsible for the entire cost of this plan. Most people were OK with this system over the past decades. The state is resp¬onsible for mental health complexes such as MMHI—just outside of Madison. There the residents—deemed mentally ill after committing ghastly crimes (Keith Kalota bludgeoned his wife and kids with an axe; Jane Jacobsen killed her lover's mate in a classic love triangle) and they live an (expensive) "non-prison" life which includes outside employment, weekend furloughs, and community outings. No "hard time" in these state facilities. P.S. Both have been released into the community.
The most extreme of possible incarceration methods is the civil commitment scheme—which combines the mental health concept with the intention and mechanics of (prison) incarceration. When this plan was promulgated by legislatures in Washington and Kansas, Wisconsin quickly followed. The Kansas statute was declared unconstitutional by its Supreme Court and the Washington law ran into trouble in the local Federal court but in Wisconsin, Ch. #980 (located right in the middle of criminal statutes) the law was upheld by a 6-1 margin. Only Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson had the courage to dissent. See State v. Post 541 N.W. 2d 115. Contrary to the Constitution's admonition in favor of "equal protection under the law" (Amend #14,) this law applies ONLY to convicted sex offenders—who have served their (well deserved) prison sentences at an already staggering cost to the state budget—now in arrears by $3 B .
What next? Well, after the federal court in Washington (state) declared that this new class of "prisoners" could not be interred in an actual prison, Wisconsin embarked on a $45M building project in a depressed rural area in Juneau. Then the residents of Mauston rejected the plan until it was pointed out that a financial windfall would accrue in terms of (recession proof) jobs and local sales revenue. Then, after the facility was filled to capacity (275) after opening in 2000, a 150 bed addition was planned, budgeted, and built in 2008 (for another $40M) but lo and behold—it stands empty. Meanwhile 75 or so "left-over" guys are retained (or banished) back to the original "holding tank," WRC in Winnebago Co. (on the shores of beautiful Lk. Winnebago.) The same thing happened in California where the new $100M "sexual predator" facility built in Coalinga stood empty for two years before funding could be found to staff the place (in the middle of the desert valley where water is at a "premium.") Both states are paying a hefty tab for this largesse whereas a "get tough on crime" state, Texas, just supervises their released sex offenders in the traditional way: quick revocation upon the first complaint.
In the interest of full disclosure, the tab for Wisconsin's venture into what I call "Ultimate Punitive Incareration" amounts to $381 per day X 365 days (per year) for 400 "patients" which equates to an expenditure of apx. $130,000 per man, adding up to a $40M budget drain on the DHS, now separated from the former DHFS as the "Family" has been deleted—so as not to give the impression that the sex offender law is more important than the families it was drawn (ostensibly) to protect. Go, figure. ?
Thus, Ch. 980 seems to be the "golden calf of Wisconsin budgetary considerations or a #1 priority in the view of various legislators. Even former Gov. Tommy Thompson was "up front" in his description of this plan (back in 1993-94): "We might be able to use civil commitment procedure to keep them (sex offenders) in jail." By jail, he meant prison, or the current "nom-de-plume": Secure Treatment Facilities. No weekend passes or other frills like the regular mentally ill.
This scheme entails an extension on the traditional definition of mental illness (as recognized in the diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association to include various paraphilias and the nebulous "anti-social personality" diagnosis—a cover name for rapist—which is not specifically included in the APA diagnosis—for various reasons. This regimen is in constant flux—as we see by the deletion of the former category of homo¬sexuality as a component of "mental abnormality." This is not the highly specific category such as a designation of schitzophrenia incurs. A recent court of appeals decision (7th Circuit, Chicago) allows almost ANY such testimony of such abnormality by an expert witness as qualification for a ruling of "dangerousness" and the concurrent (indefinite) commitment. Due process be damned as many legal rights are not extended to civil matters as opposed to the "rights of criminal defendants."
Additionally, the threshold of commitment has been extended (modified from) a "much more likely than not" (67%) to a meager "more likely than not" (51%) standard State v. Smalley in complement to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Crane (nexus of events) which followed the seminal case Kansas v. Hendricks. In that confirmation, the court was more evenly split than Wisconsin, a 5-4 decision upholding the concept of civil commitment based on perceived dangerousness. Swing voters Kennedy and O'Connor sided with the majority in 1994—otherwise this entire deal would have been abandoned—at great savings to the taxpayers. Can we truly afford the luxury of keeping 400 offenders whose terms have expired under the pretext of keeping the entire state safe from sexual predators? What about the other 18,000 registered sex offenders living in the community? What about the thousands of released drug offenders who provide constant mayhem in the cities of the state as they attempt to recapture their drug turf?
In conclusion: we have abdicated our responsibility to leave a better society for our heirs in the quest for safety. Most sexual assaults are performed by someone known (and trusted) by the victim—whether it be rape, incest, or child sexual assault. Teenage "Romeos" are caught in the net as circuit court judges routinely abandon their courtroom to the exalted class of psychologists who have entered this profession of expert and therapist and reap the benefits of society's modern day witch hunt: the search to crucify those accused of sexual offending. Let those without guilt cast the first stone.
The Dept. of Public Instruction has proposed a 2% ($420M) increase in assistance to school districts for 2011-12 and 4% for the next year thereafter. Sen. Alberta Darling predicts the proposal will be "pretty much dead on arrival" in the next state legislature, under REP control in the next term. The Supt. says he would use the budget increase to help school districts to control costs and earmark $3000 from the state for each student enrolled. MPS would stand to gain 5% under this proposal. This measure is in stark contrast to the enactment of Ch. 980 where Darling's co-sponsor, Rep. Lolita Schneiders intoned: "(The bill) seeks to place further restrictions on the most heinous of repeat sex offenders by ensuring the prison term would be extended." Her hysterical rant continued but I get sick to my stomach when reading it and I don't want to "fan the flames." Legislative attorney Greg Olsen, who helped to draft the bill, gives his candid view (back in 1993-4): "I am not confident that the law is being narrowly enough drawn because it is impossible to say who should be committed on the basis of a mental disorder we are not sure even exists." Greg Van Rybrock, MMHI Clinical Dir. States: "Mental disorders are the broad umbrella that all of us could fall under.""
At this point, the statute has netted a handful of very dangerous criminals with a violent past, some of which has been sexual in nature. These guys are primarily thugs and gang leaders and the chance for rehabilitation is slim. Also, there are two units at Sand Ridge for developmentally disabled men who have committed sex offenses. These men do not really attend therapy (low attention span) but participate in various "projects" that one might see in any Special Ed classroom. There is a class for non-violent offenders—primarily child molesters and incest perpetrators. The program they are in is scheduled for 6-8 years but few graduate. The most ubiquitous group is called CT—a tougher group of rapists whose every response to anxiety is "I'll kick your ass." Few graduate after as much as 10-15 years attendance. Some drop out and may reapply. And then there is SKU, "skilled care unit" for older and infirm guys who can no longer take care of themselves. Diabetes is rampant throughout the entire population at Sand Ridge. Sharon Patrick, a member of the Sand Ridge steering committee comments: "These guys are getting a free ride. If anything, they are over-socialized (by sitting around all day playing cards.")
The PEW Research Institute releases stunning information about each state's commitment to keeping their former citizens locked up. It states that Wisconsin devotes 14% of its workforce in its Dept. of Corrections. If you want to rank us in line with the 50 states, we are thus 6th highest. Even California, with over 100,000 former citizens locked up is ranked 1111 at 12.8%. Our Midwest neighbors are well below this standard—except Missouri at 13.9%. The state most demographically similar to us, Minnesota, is near the bottom at 5.2%. Now, only 19 states have civil commitment statutes in place, so the cost of that is hidden—surely in Wisconsin-as the cost is bourn by our Dept. of Heath Services. Yes, California and Minnesota have similar laws but the #1 state, Texas (16.9%) does not. What this means is that our already cash-strapped state is devoting MORE than just an exorbitant amount in the quest to keep us safe.
Just a word about the private sector—in case you think they can deal with the mess of incarceration that we have established in this state and nation. The American Legislative Exchange Council, comprised of powerful corporations and their lobbyists meets regularly in Washington, DC to forward their collective agendas back to various state legislatures. One of the members, the Corrections Corporation of America (chief shareholders: former TN Gov. Lamar Alexander and TV personality Bob Barker) met to promulgate the recent law passed in AZ deemed to arrest and detain illegals. Where would they be housed? Yep, CCA. This was the same process used in the promulgation of "civil commitment" laws in the states that now use them. When Wisconsin "deported" over 4000 of their prisoners in the late 1990's, CCA was the beneficiary. The entire gamut was a mess and they had to settle a $600,000 law suit for tazoring our former citizens.
No elected jurist or Dist. Atty. will ever want to appear soft on crime—particularly sex offenders—nor will any legislator in Madison. The media-created hysteria about sexual criminals has impacted our society to great dimensions in the past twenty years. Furthermore, a class of human piranhas, known as psychologist/therapists (Psychiatry does not really support the concept) have landed windfall profits to their ledgers by testifying in court and writing reports at the crack of $150-500 an hour in support of the continuing incarceration of those offenders that are deemed to pose a continuing threat. What are the chances that a convicted drunk driver will get behind the wheel again while impaired? Drug offenders do not give up their illegal activity easily—many despite years of "therapy" and REHAB. The concept that sex offenders can be treated successfully is a myth. The best society can hope for an ex-criminal is to dissuade them from further activity and offer them a reasonable alternative that does not bankrupt the state.
Probation & parole costs a mere $8000 per year.
One Possible Solution: This matter about "civil commitment" and the state budget are not incompatible IF anyone who cares (such as the sponsor of this blog) will consider this recommendation: Release every man (and women) who is incarcerated in this state on their 67th birthday and let the federal SS system take care of them. Statistics are clear—particularly for sex offenders—that the potential for reoffense is quite low—particularly after age 60. Hansen and Thornton (Treatment Dir. At Sand Ridge) have researched the matter and found that the actuarials reveal only a 2% rate of reoffense and -2% every year thereafter. These men constitute the highest rate in terms of health care also and drive up the expenditure for this folly to the point where it reaches $139,000 per year. This cost (and the cost of maintaining prisoners in the D.O.C). would be substantially lower if this (humanitarian) plan would be followed. LIFE without parole anywhere is an abomination and leads to despair for all those concerned. What to do about people like Bernie Madoff who are convicted of ghastly crimes in their 60's? Take them up in a plane with a parachute and backpack (with a tent, etc.) and drop them over Gates of the Arctic N.P. in Alaska and let them fend for themselves. This message is not about people who are just starting a term of incarceration BUT those who have finished and are indefinitely retained under the guise that they may remain dangerous to society. Yes, reduce the state budget but also concentrate on things which matter:
Early childhood education, Family support and nutrition, Elementary, secondary, and higher education, health care coverage, and job opportunities in the inner city and rural areas so we can harvest their citizens—at age 18 and welcome them to society as productive members.
Address the deficiencies in our society which lead to only 44% of Black kids graduating from high school in Milwaukee and the fact that on average 63 children died in homocides (2007-08) and 31 died of suicide in the state of Wisconsin. None of these are sex crimes. The continued binge of incarceration leads to a bleak future for many of our citizens.
For further research information, and to check on abuse of kids by ADHD medications, see Clinical Psychiatry News (Sept., 2009 p. 27) and Duke (Univ.) Medicine Health News, Vol 16, No. 1, p. 5. Honing in on one possible source of offense to children, teens, and women in our society and disregarding the many other factors that may lead to their victimization is outright folly and misguided use of the media, government, and the psychological community of certified (and uncertified) practitioners. See also "Life Before the Modern Sex Offender Statutes" Northwestern Univ. Law Review . Denno, Deborah Vol. 92, Summer, 1998, No. #4 and also "Megan's Law: Can It Stop Sexual Predators—and At What Cost To Constitutional Rights?" 11 Crim. Just. 3,3 (1996.) Joel B. Rudin.