Increase in electronic monitoring violations at jail highlights a community problem

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- Inmates housed outside of the Marathon County jail due to critical structure problems will return to the jail Friday. Over the last six months of emergency construction, jail staff saw additional challenges including an increase in violations from inmates housed out in the community on electronic monitor.

While the violations increased, there was also an increase in inmates who had to be placed on electronic monitoring. This problem will largely be fixed as more inmates are able to return to the jail, but the type of violations highlight a community issue.

The critical damage to the jail was right where inmates who are part of the Huber program are housed. Jail Administrator Sandra La Du said during the construction many of those who are eligible for Huber were placed on electronic monitoring, sent back to their own homes, and supervised by a corrections officer.

"Anybody that was on electronic monitoring, we would have not considered a risk to the community, but we often measure their risk and need," she said.

On average, the jail has about 15 people who have the privilege of being on an electronic monitor and about 45 participate in the Huber program, where they report back to the jail in the evening. During construction, Huber was not an option, so the number of inmates housed out in the community on monitor more than doubled to an average of 39. The jail also had to reassign an additional corrections officer to monitor the added inmates.

"We have unfortunately seen a lot of increase in things like drug and alcohol use violations that we may not have typically seen in the past because they were coming back to jail at night," La Du shared.

She said using drugs or alcohol while out on monitor are automatic failures, meaning they lose their privilege. Other failures include being charged with new crimes, and “significant rule violations” such as a probation violation or a no-contact violation. In total, in 2019 there were 37 failures which break down to five alcohol violations, 20 drug violations, 10 significant rule violations, and two new charges.

In 2018, there was a total of 22 violations broken down as seven alcohol violations, 11 drug violations, two significant rule violations, and two new charges. In 2017, there was a total of 14 violations four being alcohol violations, four drug violations, five significant rule violations, and two new charges.

However, if you take out the drug and alcohol violations, the number of violations gets cut by half or more depending on the year. La Du said with the emergency construction, they gave eligible inmates the privilege of being in the community but knew there was a risk for those who had stronger substance abuse backgrounds.

"We kind of loosened our restrictions on who was eligible for the monitor based upon the fact that we couldn't keep them in a more restrictive setting," La Du said.

For inmates living with an addiction, some on a monitor went back into the same environments where their addiction thrived.

"The use causes changes in neurobiology, which makes them more susceptible to relapse,” Dr. Jon Snider, North Central Health Care clinical psychologist explained. “So without any changes in the social environment, which this addiction thrived, without any changes in that biology, which takes some several months to a year to achieve. They're very vulnerable at that stage."

He said the jail partners with North Central Health Care in many ways and in many programs to help people addicted to substances.

"Obviously, there's [sic] some negative influences in jail, with other people that are there,” he said, “on the other hand, you give that brain some additional time to heal before you reintroduce them into that environment."

La Du said she is working with community resources, such as North Central Health Care on a new program after experiencing these difficulties during the construction.

"So essentially, we'll be dedicating one block of our Hubers to inmates who we identify as mostly an underlying substance abuse problem accompanied with some mental health issues and processing them through a system or a program that allows them to more aptly adjust to, kind of, what's going to happen when they are released for good, and hopefully for good,” she said. “And hopefully reduce some recidivism by getting them the bridges that they need in the community in order to keep them successful."

There are numerous evidence-based programs the jail, court, district attorney’s office, law enforcement, and probation and parole have created as well to help address the community problem of addiction. La Du said they have seen a decrease in the number of bed days in the jail and a reduction in revocations because of these programs.

She said the county has done studies about the inmate population, which found the “people who are in our facility are people who are identified as needing to be in jail. So, whether it be for the punishment of having committed a crime, or it be for pre-trial… a lot of people believe we're locking up offenders who are in possession of, you know, personal-use amount of marijuana. And that's just not the case anymore. It may have been five years ago, but it's just not the case.”

She said she understands some people believe members of the criminal justice system in Marathon County are “just out to get everyone when they're when they're using drugs or charge them and send them to jail.” She stated the statistics they have do not show that, “even though on a personal level, as someone reads or sees or knows somebody, they may feel that.”

Another challenge jail staff and inmates had during the construction was getting inmates the mental health treatment they needed. Some of the inmates, who would typically see the jail’s psychiatrist, were held in other counties and those other counties, in part due to size, do not necessarily have the same programs available to inmates.

Staff also had some difficulty getting inmates to and from their court appearances since there were many more housed out of the county than there typically would be. La Du said at this point, that has been mastered.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had incorrect calculations of failure rates. The correct failure rates for the electronic monitoring program are as follows, 2019 - 17%, 2018 - 14%, 2017 - 10%.