About 400 Wisconsin minimum security inmates are eligible for parole but remain in prison, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The cost to keep them there is more than $15 million a year, part of a skyrocketing corrections budget that now surpasses that of the University of Wisconsin System. “The process in place now is completely irrational,” said former Department of Justice administrator Jerry Hancock, who now directs the prison ministry at First Congregational Church in Madison. “It doesn’t enhance public safety and it wastes a huge amount of money.”
A secretive system that robs the parole board of its power is to blame. State law gives the board the authority to release prisoners it deems rehabilitated if their crimes were committed before truth in sentencing took effect in 2000. A Department of Corrections rule, written 20 years earlier, transfers that authority to prison employees. The Corrections Department says it does not keep official records of which workers are part of the internal decision-making groups, known as program review committees. As a result, they are accountable to no one outside the system. The parole board cannot release prisoners until they have met certain standards, such as getting drug or alcohol treatment and behaving well in a minimum-security setting. It’s up to the program review committee at each prison — not the parole board — to enroll inmates in counseling or move them to a low-risk facility.