Waukesha County, Wi., is experimenting with a work-release jail, which involves spending nights behind bars, says the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Inmates are being released early under a new initiative aimed at relieving jail congestion and trying a new approach to rehabilitate offenders. Dozens more convicted of non-violent crimes could follow. Officials say they are scrutinizing each candidate for early release carefully to guard against any threat to public safety.
The project is stirring concerns that it cheats the criminal justice system by allowing offenders to avoid time behind bars. “I think it is totally sick,” said Ellen Orten, whose ex-husband was released despite having nearly three months left on his sentence for contempt of court. The man, 53, was jailed for refusing to pay about $50,000 in child support payments for his two children. The program allows non-violent offenders to be released from the work-release jail on electronic monitoring, often with regular drug testing and other types of supervision. Sheriff Dan Trawicki, who started the program because of a budget crunch, said the top priority is ensuring that no released inmate poses a safety threat to the general public. “I don’t want to push the envelope,” he said. “You’ve got to use a common sense approach to it.”