The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't Know What You Got

I don't like talking about my workplace online. There are two reasons for this: one, it's considered to be borderline breach of conduct, especially if I'm criticizing my employers. Two, it's because of who I work for - namely, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

However, I might not be working much longer for the DOC, nor the state. It got a lot of play nationally a few weeks ago that the state of Wisconsin is considering closing the state's oldest juvenile detention facility (aka "Boys School"), located in Wales.

For those of you who don't know: Waukesha has been home for the state's school for delinquent male youth for over a century, and for the last 51 years that has been at the site of the old State Tuberculosis hospital on the side of Lapham Peak. Though the place has been in regular use for all those years, it is currently at a historic low in terms of population. In fact, the Average Annual Daily Population is projected to be lower than any time since the institution was completed (with all its living units open) in 1961.

There are a lot of issues as to why that is occurring - the greatest of which is, of course, money. It's not cheap to send youth who are convicted of crimes that would require them to serve six months or more in adult prisons to a facility - especially when they are charged a daily rate that will become $275 per day per youth as of July 1.

Even though the committee could not recommend closure of a facility, there's still that bad feeling that surrounded the vote - namely, five of the eight members who voted chose the option that would close Ethan Allen. The reasons that were given were so "out there" that I can't even begin to touch on them all.

The one that got completely glossed over, of course, was the travel issue. The bottom line is this: from the DOC headquarters in Madison, it is 53 miles (less than an hour, really) to the front door of Ethan Allen School. To Lincoln Hills, it's 166 miles - and not all of that is freeway. That is NOT going to be cheap for counties that send youth to a JCI (Juvenile Corrections Institution) over the long run.

In essence, it's almost like charging for an extra day or two just to transport the youth to and from the institution. Think about it: average youth is incarcerated for about nine months; assume there's at least one court hearing as he enters his reintegration phase (last 30-60 days of his stay); that's a total of four round trips for sheriff deputies for one kid. Roughly, that's about an extra 2,000 miles and another 12 hours of pay per trip. That could mean about $600 more in the way of expenses for one youth, just on the basis of trips - and yes, I'm worst-casing it about gas mileage, cost of fuel and the likelihood that the deputies are high-seniority with high hourly pay rates.

There's the other side of the story, of course - one that Eugene Kane (a man I don't normally agree with, by the way) brought up the week before the JCRC met for the final time. Namely, the distance would alienate youth from their families and support base. Yes, I know the arguments about how their families should have been stopping them before they got put at EAS, but sometimes it takes their little Johnny going off to prison to make them wake up and realize that they need to get involved in his life.

This is where I think the committee was grossly misinformed. They were led to believe that the number of visits at both institutions are "essentially the same". What they were being told was that LHS uses a great deal of videoconferencing to allow families to have contact with their kids up in Irma. That's all well and good, but have you ever tried to hug a video camera?

The truth of the matter is, EAS has about four times more in-person visits than LHS. And, if the state didn't run a charter bus from Milwaukee to Irma essentially once a month (and on the weekends only every other month), I'd suspect the ratio would be even greater.

There is one other area that should make people in Waukesha very nervous: what happens to EAS when it's closed? The state has never completely abandoned a facility that they have closed, at least not to my knowledge and certainly not in recent years. Besides, abandonment of EAS is out of the question, since there are at least three buildings on grounds that are on the National Register of Historic Places. So it's likely that the institution would be repurposed for something else - and the press release that announced the committee's formation has a clue as to what that might be:
Under any option to reduce juvenile institutional space, the committee also will examine options for converting it, including possible creation of a new juvenile community-based program or an adult alcohol and other drug (AODA) treatment facility (emphasis mine) to address higher demand expected under Wisconsin’s new, tough drunk driving legislation.
Yes, that's right, people of Delafield-Wales - your Boys School would become Wales Correctional Institution. And a lot of the people who worked there before would be gone from your community - likely including me.

That might not sound like a big issue - capitalism, after all, suggests that someone else would come in and spend their money in the stores and places that exist on the Highway 83 corridor. How much of that, though, might not be replaced? I once figured out that if I were to stop and get a large coffee and a doughnut (or cookie or whatever) from the local Kwik Trip in Wales (and don't ask "which one?") every day that I would be working, it would come out to just about $1,000 a year.

To be on the conservative side of estimates, let's say that the people who currently work at EAS spent maybe $200,000 at Kwik Trip a year. Some employees don't spend any money there; some get a lot of stuff (including, of course, gas) - we can pretty much assume that it evens out. Now, let's say that converting EAS to an adult facility means a 25% reduction in staff. That means a drop of about $25k a year.

Let's go back to our wonderful committee. They have said that if EAS were to be the one to stay open, they'd have to likely hire about 100 new staff to accommodate the extra youth. Go back up there and make that $200k figure a nice, robust $300k.

There's your pocketbook answer, Waukesha: rather have an extra $100,000 in your pocket, or $25,000 less?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Some random thoughts

There's a really good reason why I haven't written much lately. But let me try to get up to speed with things:

Friday, June 04, 2010

My Take On Imperfection

As much ado as has been made of the situation that happened in Cleveland on Wednesday night, I have been pretty much on the opposite side of the fence as many of the mainstream media types are.

I do not believe that MLB should "take away" the hit, nor do I believe that this is a clarion call for instant replay to be implemented. I have pointed out to some critics that this is not the first time that an umpire made a mistake that "robbed" a pitcher of a perfect game (Hello, Bruce Froemming and Milt Pappas), nor is it the biggest mistake made by an umpire (Don Denkinger, please pick up the Whitey Herzog courtesy phone).

However, there's one nagging question that I have: why didn't the official scorer at Progressive "It's Still Jacobs To Me" Field just do the magnanimous thing and call it an error? I'd have been much more comfortable with Galarraga having a no-hitter with an error than a one-hitter with a bad umpiring call.