County approves alternative jail program for women

County approves alternative jail program for women

Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at Published – Friday, December 21, 2007 County approves alternative jail program for women By REID MAGNEY | La Crosse Tribune Sometime next year, La Crosse County might let all its female prisoners out of jail. Instead of sitting behind bars, the women will be in a new community-based program the La Crosse County Board unanimously approved Thursday night. The board awarded a $250,000 contract to the YWCA to run the program, starting in February. About 20 to 25 women are in the jail at any one time, supervised 24/7 by two jailers at a cost of $420,000 a year, plus other operating expenses. About 15 of those women would go on electronic home monitoring through Justice Sanctions, and into job counseling, literacy training and other programs through the YWCA, said Supervisor Jill Billings. “It’s a better way than locking them up.” Later next year, the county will lease or buy a “halfway house” facility in La Crosse where up to 10 women will live. The board has budgeted up to $250,000 for the facility. Those women also would be on electronic home monitoring and in YWCA programming, though they will not be supervised around the clock. With the women’s jail empty, some male prisoners could temporarily be moved there while cell blocks in the men’s jail are remodeled for the few women who need to be jailed, said County Administrator Steve O’Malley. Supervisor Jim Berns questioned whether the county would have a spike in spending to have the women’s program and women’s jail at the same time. “It’s at least half the cost to have a woman in the community with this intensive level of service as it is to lock them up and get nothing and not change behavior,” O’Malley said. Board Chairman Steve Doyle said Berns is right, it temporarily will cost the county more money because they’re not laying off jailers. But having those jailers work in the main jail will improve safety and control, something Sheriff Steve Helgeson has been asking for, O’Malley said. Some supervisors questioned how the county could possibly go without a jail for women. Supervisor Keith Belzer, a criminal defense attorney, said in 15 years he’s never represented a woman who was put in jail because she’s dangerous. “I’m not saying there won’t ever be a woman in La Crosse County who’s dangerous and needs to be locked up for the safety of the community,” said Belzer. “I will say that would be the rare exception rather than the rule.” Belzer said women are almost always in the system “because of some kind of relationship with a man.” Getting those women treatment and help will cut recidivism, he said. The community-based program was one of several recommendations made last year by The Carey Group, which is helping the county improve its jail and Justice Sanctions programs.

12-25-2007 09:42 AM

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