Audit finds improvements needed for DOC community corrections program

By: - April 17, 2023 4:52 pm
rear view of prison officer leading prisoner in handcuffs in corridor in jail. Inmate wearing orange

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The Joint Legislative Audit Committee has released its evaluation of  community corrections programs under the Department of Corrections (DOC). Auditors visited 22 DOC facilities, interviewed 76 DOC agents and their supervisors, and observed 54 interactions between agents and people under supervision by the department. Over 1,000 agents were also surveyed, all 76 of Wisconsin’s county sheriffs and a random sample of 5,000 people under supervision by the DOC. By its end, the audit detected several aspects of the community corrections program that need improvement.

According to the audit, between January 2019 and December 2021, over 128,000 people were under supervision at some point. Those included people on probation, extended supervision and parole, including sex offenders. Between February 2020 and December 2021, the number of people under supervision dropped from 67,203 to 63,204. “Most individuals who responded to our survey indicated that their DOC agents treated them fairly and with respect,” a summary page for the audit noted.

The audit found, however, that the DOC did not consistently complete risk and needs assessments in a timely manner. Such assessments help determine the likelihood of people committing future crimes and address their specific needs. “We found that 25,687 initial risk and needs assessments (35.8%) were not completed in a timely manner for individuals who began supervision from January 2019 through December 2021, including 13,270 assessments (18.5%) that were not completed within 60 days after the individuals began community supervision.”

Numbers varied for specific regions across the state for risk and needs assessments not completed within the 30 days required by DOC policies. In Glendale the proportion of assessments which weren’t completed quickly enough was high at 42.1%. In Waukesha, it was 37.9%. The rate in Kenosha was 25.7%. Rhinelander had the lowest rate with 29.8% of risk assessments completed in a timely manner. The audit also found that the DOC does not centrally track all program services, even when individuals have been ordered by courts to complete them.

Over the period of time covered by the audit, just 19.6% of the 128,213 individuals on community supervision received program services paid for or provided by the DOC. Individuals successfully completed 45.4% of the services, with portions of those who received and completed those services varying statewide. The audit recommended that “DOC collect non-confidential data on all court-ordered services provided to individuals and develop a plan for complying with statutes by evaluating the effectiveness of program services at decreasing the rates of arrest, conviction, and imprisonment.”

The audit also looked at violations committed by individuals on community supervision. It found that from January 2019 to March 2022, DOC agents substantiated that 57,253 people committed 388,408 violations. “Non-criminal violations of program rules accounted for more than one-half of all violations and included 102,519 violations for using drugs or alcohol,” the audit report found. “We found considerable differences among the eight regions in the extent to which agents completed investigations of individuals from January 2019 through December 2021.” In 2021, 12.4% of investigation reports took longer to complete than the 10 days required by policy.

Over the same period, 168,066 consequences were imposed on individuals for program rule violations. Those consequences can range from a verbal warning to being held in jail to a full revocation and return to prison. Jail holds (28.4%) and revocation (15.6%) comprised a majority of the punishments. Formal communications (15.1%), increased supervision (12.3%), and short-term sanctions (8.5%) were close runners up, followed by GPS monitoring, rule changes, or “other.”

The audit noted that, “many DOC agents who responded to our survey indicated dissatisfaction with how consequences are determined, including 75.1% of responding agents who indicated the violation consequences required by policies were too lenient after January 2021.” Vacancy rates also increased from 5.6% in July 2019 to 12.8% in July 2022 for the community corrections program. “The proportion of DOC agents employed in permanent positions for at least one year decreased in recent years,” the audit states. “Most agents who responded to our survey indicated that they were dissatisfied with their wages and workloads, but most responding agents believed they were able to help the individuals they supervise and help to maintain public safety.”

Examination of program differences among the state’s eight regions for community corrections is recommended by the audit. A list of 27 recommendations to improve the program was provided in the report, which also pushed the importance of data collection to evaluate the program itself. “If DOC determines that some of these differences indicate individuals may not have been supervised appropriately, it should develop and implement a plan to address the differences and ensure that individuals are supervised appropriately,” the report states. “DOC has implemented an evidence-based response to violations project that is intended to improve how it responds to violations committed by individuals under community supervision. In order to comprehensively evaluate whether the project has been successful, the project needs to have been in operation for a sufficient period of time, and a sufficient amount of data needs to be available.”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.