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Yesterday, an “All Politics” blog post by reporter Steve Schultze in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered a brewing battle between Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. and Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers. On Wednesday, Sheriff Clarke talked to the media about his recent removal of 61 offenders from the county’s electronic monitoring program, which was used to monitor certain qualifying offenders via electronic supervision as an alternative to the average $144/day it costs to house these offenders in the county jail. Previously, judicial recommendations were often the guideline used to determine whether someone would be incarcerated or out on electronic monitoring. But the sheriff cited a recently discovered (though 5 year old) law that allows him full authority to determine supervision for every offender sentenced to his jail.

Judge Kremers, who does not dispute the sheriff’s authority, has publically taken exception to the policy change, which resulted in the immediate incarceration of 61 offenders who to that point were compliant and following the terms of their probation. The sheriff says he believes the 61 identified offenders were dangerous enough to warrant incarceration, and believes it is an important step in a tough-on-crime approach to managing the jail population in his county.

The battle illustrates a common one in the justice system—different departments, each dealing with criminal offenders, but each with different–and often competing–incentives. More than 40 of those offenders were repeat drunk drivers sentenced to SCRAMx monitoring as part of their DUI convictions. Whether it’s SCRAMx or GPS or house arrest/RF, when comparing the daily cost of monitoring to the daily incarceration rate, electronic monitoring programs are generally credited with saving counties millions of dollars every year, even for just 40 offenders who would have otherwise been in jail.

So who is right? Everyone and no one, it would seem. Interestingly, in April of 2008, the Journal-Sentinel ran an article entitled “400 diverted into treatment, freeing court and jail space,” where officials in the very same county (as well as others in Wisconsin) touted a new diversion program aimed at changing the management of nonviolent offenders with addiction issues but keeping them in the community and directly addressing their addictions, instead of putting them in jail. And judges often turn to EM-based diversion programs because there simply aren’t enough jail beds to house the offenders that come through their court, no matter how much they want that offender to spend time in jail.

It’s a difficult balance, and Milwaukee seems to exemplify the debate. So which approach makes the most sense? What is the proper balance? Weigh in, we’d like to hear what you have to say.

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.


  1. As a Justice of the Peace in Texas, I use EM as a condition of bond when I magistrate. Should they violate the condition of bond it is revoked and the defendant is then incarcerated to wait for trial. I make it the responsibility of the defendant to pay all charges associated with the EM. When the case is filed in the proper court, I lose jurisdiction and the decision is with the proper court. Not only does it affect the defendant but also the community when word gets out that we are serious about saving lives.

  2. I would much rather see these “criminals” that are behind bars (depending on their crime and how times they have committed the offense) on house arrest and getting the help they need, than sitting behind bars without getting the help. I know for a fact that the House of Corrections in Franklin, WI does not offer any type of classes or help to these offenders. Let’s get it together Sherriff Clarke and stop spending so much of the tax payers dollars keeping offenders who don’t belong behind bars in the jails!!!

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