Milwaukee County’s inmate training program raising concerns

Wary observers question military-style training, which starts in January

By Steve Schultze of the Journal Sentinel

Dec. 5, 2010 |(28) Comments

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.’s military-style training program for inmates starts in January, with some observers wary about its effectiveness and county liability in case of injuries.

Though similar in some respects to inmate boot camps, Clarke says, his “Discipline, Order, Training and Structure” program won’t include any abusive elements that have given some boot camp inmate training a bad reputation.

Absolutely no corporal punishment will be meted out, according to Colin Briggs, the sheriff’s captain and Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran picked by Clarke to run the program.

“It’s in no way intended to be a military-style boot camp,” Briggs told supervisors on the County Board’s judiciary committee last week. It may look and sound like a boot camp, however, and Briggs acknowledged that Clarke’s DOTS program borrows military elements in its design.

Inmates will wear uniforms, rise early, be subjected to rigorous physical training by drill instructors and live in close proximity to other program participants. You’ll hear a lot of “yes, sir” and “no, sir” from inmates while in the training, Briggs said.

A DOTS program description refers to “imposed discipline” on inmates. “Enforced obedience to the legal orders and regulations of the DOTS program . . .  is absolutely essential,” the summary states. Adherence to rules is necessary to provide structure inmates need to successfully return home, the summary says.

Clarke turned to the military-type training program to provide constructive help rather than mostly dead time while inmates are locked up.

The program will start small in January and grow to 60 inmates by April, said sheriff’s Inspector Richard Schmidt. Some elements of the program eventually will be spread to the entire County Correctional Facility-South in Franklin.

The training is closely patterned after a prison program called “special alternative incarceration” in Chelsea, Mich., where the 10 Milwaukee County deputies and correctional officers who will serve as drill instructors took a week’s training to prepare them to run DOTS. Briggs and two other managers of the program also took the training in Michigan, which was provided at no cost to the county.

Inmates picked for the 90-day training will be low-level offenders who are in decent physical shape and don’t present serious behavior problems, Schmidt said.

Participation by inmates will be voluntary – at least for now, Briggs said. That answer concerned Supervisor Gerry Broderick, who said the county could be financially liable for injuries or other problems if participation is coerced.

“I don’t want to find the county in the position of having to remedy (mistaken) judgments by others,” Broderick said.

Concerns raised

The DOTS program includes classroom instruction on job readiness, anger management and building positive relationships with friends and spouses.

Using deputies and correctional officers with little background in counseling could lead to trouble, said Kit McNally, executive director of the Benedict Center, a nonprofit criminal justice agency. The DOTS program envisions small-group counseling sessions that could tap into deep-seated emotional trauma and do more harm than good, McNally said.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable with that,” she said. “You can get at some things that are pretty horrendous” if mishandled by the nonprofessional counseling.

McNally said she remains skeptical of the program but was “cautiously willing to wait and see” how well it works out. She noted that the DOTS program design had been modified over the year of its development by the sheriff to incorporate existing welding and print shop training, high school classes and drug and alcohol counseling.

McNally said she was concerned DOTS participants might displace others for scarce openings for the occupational training or drug treatment.

District Attorney John Chisholm said the program had “some real potential” for curbing repeat criminal activity. Chisholm said DOTS could fit into a coordinated effort by the county to assess what parts of the criminal justice system are working to curb recidivism and which ones are not. The review is being conducted with the help of the National Institute of Corrections.

No County Board approval has been sought or is needed for Clarke to start the program. No extra costs beyond the sheriff’s $150 million annual department budget are anticipated, Schmidt said.


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