March 27, 2013
Legislatively Speaking: State Under Audit for Sex Offender Placement
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
This week the Joint Legislative Audit Committee authorized an audit of Supervised Released Program Placements. In lay terms, the state will audit its performance, financing, and policy behind how we release sex offenders in the community. Since the inception of the Ch.980 laws we have never audited how we are releasing these persons in the community. The audit stems from reports of extremely high rent paid by the state for housing for these offenders and separate reports of placing offenders extremely close to victims.
To be clear, the audit is not an audit of the sex offender themselves or their actions. Rather the state is investigating the policy and practice of the Department of Corrections and Department of Health Services, and possibly the Department of Justice, in its work in placing these offenders. The State Auditor, Joe Chrisman, outlined the scope of the audit to the committee:
“An audit of supervised release program placements could:
- evaluate the process used to place individuals into the community through the supervised release program, including notification of victims or their families;
- analyze the cost of supervised release program placements, including housing, treatment, and related support services in order to determine overall cost-effectiveness; and
- assess supervised release program outcomes.”
There are two major overriding state policies that lead to extreme costs in dealing with sex offenders. The first is the propensity of use of ch.980. This law allows the Attorney General to seek to place in indefinite confinement a sex offender who has or is finishing their sentence in prison. Wisconsin is one of the states to most likely use this policy to confine people not as a punishment (that prison time is already done) but as containment mechanism to keep the offender from freedom. That program costs Wisconsin taxpayers dearly.
The second policy which this audit should touch on is the lack of a statewide sex offender placement standard. In Wisconsin, there is a patchwork quilt of sex offender placement ordinances. Some cities and villages have ordinances prohibiting an offender from living within 5,000 feet of a school or other community places. Some places have no restrictions. Much of the cost for placement comes from the lack of a standard across the state for placement.
In 2009, I authored a bipartisan bill, SB 548, which would have created a statewide standard for such placements. Such a policy change, while creating anxiety for some communities, is a fiscal responsibility tool to ensure that we are not gouged in prices for housing sex offenders AND provides increased safety with a common platform for monitoring sex offenders. This bill is something that we should once again look at enacting. In fact, three of the Republican cosponsors of that bill are still in the Legislature today. This is a bipartisan moment waiting to happen.
As the audit goes forward I will be writing to the State Auditor and the members of the committee regarding this policy and its fiscal effect on the state. This audit report should show us avenues to save and protect the safety of the Wisconsin citizens.