Wisconsin DOC Community Corrections Program Audit
Alternatives to Revocation
Policies allow DOC agents to impose alternatives to revocation if revocation is an appropriate violation consequence but an individual has unmet service needs. Alternatives include, but are not limited to, placement in a correctional institution or with a residential service provider to receive services, enhanced electronic or alcohol monitoring combined with the provision of services, participation in an outpatient treatment program, and transitional housing services.
DOC’s evidence-based response to violations project seeks to increase the use of community-based, rather than institution-based, alternatives to revocation. Some DOC agents believe community-based alternatives are often more beneficial than institution-based alternatives, but other agents believe community-based alternatives are less effective because individuals are more likely to abscond. DOC indicated its data do not consistently identify when agents impose community-based alternatives to revocation.
Reviewing Consequences Imposed
Statutes require DOC to review the consequences it imposed in order to assess differences among consequences, evaluate the effectiveness of consequences, and monitor the effect of consequences on the number of revocations. We found that DOC did not comprehensively comply with this statutory requirement.
DOC indicated it considers the effectiveness of consequences through an annual recidivism report. DOC’s August 2021 report, which was the most-recent report available during our audit, analyzed recidivism rates by a number of factors, including the race, age, and gender of individuals. However, this report did not analyze recidivism rates based on the consequences imposed on individuals. In November 2022, DOC determined the most frequently imposed consequences from 2019 through 2021 and the differences among the regions in the number of jail holds and short-term sanctions imposed. However, DOC did not review whether differences existed among the regions for other types of consequences, evaluate the effectiveness of consequences, or determine whether consequences affected the number of revocations. DOC indicated it plans to complete additional reviews of consequences but that it requires up to three years of data before it can do so meaningfully.
Other states have reviewed their use of consequences. For example, the Iowa Department of Corrections in 2020 analyzed the extent to which it imposed revocations on various races of individuals. In addition, an article in the Journal of Criminal Justice in 2015 analyzed the length of time between when individuals received consequences and when they committed subsequent violations. DOC should develop a multi-year plan for complying with statutes by reviewing consequences it imposed in order to assess differences among consequences, evaluate the effectiveness of consequences, and monitor the effect of consequences on the number of revocations. Evaluating consequences will allow DOC to identify whether certain consequences are more effective than others in reducing recidivism. DOC should use the results of these reviews to improve its use of consequences.
Opinions of DOC Agents, Sheriffs, and Individuals
Many DOC agents indicated dissatisfaction with the evidence-based response to violations policies, including because the agents indicated the policies do not hold individuals sufficiently accountable for their actions and may put the public at increased risk. For example:
§ One agent commented that “I absolutely hate this new policy. Although I consider myself to be more moderate/fair and take into consideration the whole picture of client risk/needs, the individual circumstances of the violation event and most importantly, public safety, I truly feel this new way of doing business is asinine.”
§ A second agent commented that “If the violations and history of numerous violations indicate revocation is most appropriate, it honestly does not matter because many supervisors (not all) and regional chiefs are unlikely to initiate revocation without criminal charges filed even if the behavior was criminal.”
§ A third agent commented that “All the new policies rig the system to make it look like the evidence based ‘responses’ are lowering revocations/recidivism when in reality agents just do not have other options until the community is again revictimized.”
§ A fourth agent commented that “The current policies do NOT appropriately consider a client’s risk level and there really isn’t much flexibility when determining responses… The responses do almost nothing to reduce future violations as they don’t hold a person accountable in anyway. Our offenders have come to know this; they know we are not doing things the way we used to.”
§ A fifth agent commented that “We just keep rereleasing or not putting into custody people that commit violations. We let people discharge without meeting conditions from the court. We were told we ‘may need to just get used to them using drugs throughout supervision’. There is little to no accountability.”
[M]ost individuals who responded to our survey indicated their violations and consequences were clearly explained to them. However, most responding individuals indicated the consequences were not fair and did not have a positive effect on them. Most individuals who responded to our survey indicated their violations and consequences were clearly explained to them.