Ex-offenders under watch

Revocation study looks at Wisconsin's complex community corrections system and why many on supervision are failing

CONTACT: Michael Jahr, Badger Institute senior vice president, at 414-225-9940 or at Michael@badgerinstitute.org.

July 1, 2019 — Activists and policy-makers seeking to decrease Wisconsin’s prison population and reduce recidivism increasingly highlight “crimeless revocation,” the concept that people on probation and extended supervision are often thrown back into prison for simple rules violations. A new Badger Institute study conducted by independent researcher and University of Wisconsin law professor Cecelia Klingele finds that the issue is much more complex and nuanced than the term suggests.

The new report, “Ex-offenders under watch,” contains both qualitative and quantitative analysis related to community corrections. Klingele examined Wisconsin’s complex system and why so many on supervision are failing. Her analysis includes a comprehensive examination of 189 revocation cases from throughout Wisconsin in late 2016. Key findings of her report include:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse were contributing factors that led to many of the failures on community supervision.
  • Wisconsin’s lengths of supervision are unique compared with other states — both in how they’re calculated and the lengths imposed. Neither of these factors help promote public safety.
  • There are limited community-based options for probation and parole agents to employ. As a result, many individuals on supervision are sanctioned with jail time or revoked for violations that could warrant a less-serious punishment.
  • Some of the top non-criminal supervision violations are non-reporting, non-compliance with treatment programs or absconding.
  • Reforms to community corrections should better define when revocation is and is not necessary.

“Often, discussions about community supervision oversimplify the complex causes of revocation,” said Klingele. “This study explores some of those nuances, identifying common themes and areas in which change may be warranted. My hope is that this study will encourage policy-makers to explore new ways to help more people successfully complete their terms of probation, parole and extended supervision.”

The quantitative analysis, conducted by Badger Institute policy analyst Julie Grace and Patrick Hughes, an institute consultant and former Wisconsin Department of Corrections assistant deputy secretary, examined the lengths of supervision in the Badger State for all 2018 felony sentences. Among other things, the authors found that in 2018, nearly 45,000 Wisconsinites were on probation and another 21,000 were on extended supervision. Of all felony cases, 21% were sentenced to more than three years of supervision.

“One of the key takeaways from this analysis is that Wisconsin has unusually long maximum terms of supervision,” said Badger Institute President Mike Nichols. “The costs of such policies are substantial, while the benefits are minimal. Policy-makers should re-examine Wisconsin’s reliance on lengthy periods of supervision.”

Read the entire report here.