Community Corrections Audit: DOC Falling Short But Offenders Feel Valued

An audit of the early release Community Corrections Program at the Department of Corrections shows broad problems across all major elements of the program, and the agency isn’t taking it well.


Five things to know:

  1. Corrections agents think new policies sacrifice public safety in order to phony-up ‘success’ rates, and sheriffs find them too lenient
  2. The agency doesn’t track the evidence needed to protect public safety or to assess the effectiveness of “evidence-based” taxpayer funded programs
  3. Corrections is not consistently following their own policies or complying with statutes
  4. The department’s response to the audit is a case study in emotional and angry organizational resistance to change and improvement
  5. But the Evers Administration has done fine work assuring offenders overwhelmingly feel they’re supported, respected, treated fairly, and their successes are recognized


We’ve reported here, here, and here about how Scold-and Release policies of left-leaning DAs, judges, and policymakers make our neighborhoods less safe by keeping criminals, especially violent criminals, on the streets. This happens in many ways. DAs don’t prosecute, judges impose minimal or give light sentences, governors stop enforcing terms of sentences, and legislators turn a blind eye, or worse, support these policies. Victims and witnesses refuse to give statements or testify because doing so puts them in more danger from perpetrators who they know will soon be back on the streets.

Unrehabilitated criminals on our streets make us all less safe. It’s not just less safe for people who live in the war zone that is now Milwaukee or neighboring communities that are seeing the violence seep in. People across the state suffer from high crime and low accountability.

A recent audit by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found the Department of Corrections (DOC) is falling short in virtually every aspect of the Community Corrections Program.

  • Risk assessments of criminals in the community – to determine the likelihood of future criminal activity – are not done timely or consistently.
  • Services are not being provided as required by law.
  • Violations by convicts are not consistently investigated.
  • Consequences for convicts who violate the terms of their release are not consistently identified, tracked or assessed.

What does that mean for neighborhoods? In short it means the Evers Department of Corrections, which is supposed to be supervising, monitoring and sanctioning criminals released into communities…really isn’t.

DOC Responsibilities for Offenders in the Communities

DOC is statutorily responsible for supervising convicts serving a portion of their sentences in the community, whether on probation, parole, extended supervision, or mandatory release. DOC supervision of those in the Community Corrections Program should prioritize public safety – criminals represent far less danger to public safety while behind bars than while finishing serving their sentences living down the street – while attempting to reduce the high likelihood of recidivism.

How high is the likelihood?

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study across 34 states, among offenders released from state prisons, 59% are arrested at least once within the 2 years following release – 16% for a violent offense. And more than three-quarters of convicts entering state prisons had 5 or more prior arrests in their criminal history.

Under Governor Walker, DOC implemented an interactive dashboard to track recidivism. The Evers Administration stopped updating much of this data. But we know Evers made a number of changes at DOC. The prison population has dropped 12%, inmates are now referred to as “persons in our care” and they ‘reformed’ the violations and revocations process for the offenders on release in the community.

The audit gives a window into those reforms, which were not made to keep communities safer as one might assume given the huge spike in violent crime. Instead, the changes were meant to soften the Community Corrections approach to offenders who break the rules of their release. Now jail holds are down, and revocations are down.

Rigged and Dangerous

The LAB surveyed DOC agents on Evers’ new policies. They say public safety isn’t being prioritized.

One agent said, “all the new policies rig the system to make it look like the evidence-based ‘responses’ are lowering revocations/recidivism, when in reality agents just do not have any other options until the community is again revictimized.”

A majority of agents (59%) say they are not satisfied with Evers’ new revocation policies. There has been an undoubtedly big shift. In October 2018, 1097 violators were revoked; under the new Evers reforms, in October 2022, 597 were revoked. This is a 46% reduction in revocations. The revocations cases closed by the Division of Hearings and Appeals dropped a similar amount, 43% (see graphic below).


According to the survey, agents say they have pulled back on requests to increase consequences believing the requests will now be denied. As one agent put it, their superiors are “unlikely to initiate revocation without criminal charges filed even if the behavior was criminal.”

Another agent said they had been told they, “may need to just get used to them using drugs throughout supervision.”

It’s easy to forget, with a growing number of taxpayer-funded vending machines across the state delivering “safe” and free drug paraphernalia to users, that using illegal drugs is still a criminal activity, even for people who are not currently serving out a criminal sentence.

Three quarters of DOC agents said consequences of violating rules and conditions of release before the Evers reforms were appropriate; by contrast, now 75% of agents say the consequences under Evers’ reforms are too lenient. More than 75% don’t believe the new policies reduce future violations, and 61% say they don’t adequately consider public safety.

The agents are not alone in the belief that the new policies are too lax. LAB also surveyed sheriffs as part of the audit, and of the 57% who responded most said DOC didn’t appropriately respond to violations. One said the new policy “hindered local probation/parole agents from effectively managing certain offenders.”

Another sheriff said DOC is “far too lenient” on violators.

The low response rate to the LAB survey from elected sheriffs is troubling. Sheriffs from half of the 10 most populous counties could not be bothered, which certainly suggests a level of apathy about public safety that’s incredibly concerning among a number of elected law enforcement officers.

Magical Thinking and Crimeless Revocations

The left approaches incarceration believing there’s a magic number – some low magic number – of people who should be behind bars, and that number is not based on crime rates or public safety.

The Evers Administration believes the magic number is about half those currently incarcerated. Reducing the number of revocations is one step in that direction. Increasingly the left has focused on the unfairness of what they call “crimeless revocations” of those on extended supervision in the community.

When convicts are released into the community to complete their sentence, they must comply with various requirements meant to help set them up for successful reintegration. They are still serving part of their criminal sentence, and part of that sentence may require them to show up for counseling, undergo drug testing, and check in with a DOC agent. The threat of reincarceration for breaking the rules is meant to help encourage/ensure behaviors that are necessary for successful, safe reintegration into communities.

Requirements may include all or some of the following non-criminal activities (offenders are also sort of expected not to commit more crimes):

  • Attend counseling
  • Undergo drug testing
  • Checking in with their corrections agent
  • Absolute sobriety
  • Not contacting their victims
  • Not lying to their parole agent
  • Not driving a vehicle without the owner’s permission
  • Not keeping DOC informed of their address
  • Failing to report to jail when directed
  • Violating terms of electronic monitoring


The left, and increasingly far too many on the right, have ceased thinking of extended supervision or parole as part of a criminal sentence, and object to revocation for things like absconding or refusing drug testing, which are not crimes.

The hysteria about “crimeless revocations” skims over an obvious point: ‘not committing crimes’ is a relatively basic expectation of the entire citizenry. Offenders on supervision in the community for crimes already committed should have to meet a higher bar until they complete their sentence, not only for public safety but for their own.

Public Safety at Risk

In vetoing tough on crime legislation last session, Evers wrote, “…science informs us that a punitive disposition system leads to worse outcomes.” Yet actual experience informs us that leniency leads to horrific outcomes.

And as we reported here, Marshawn Giles, a 24 year old multi-repeat offender on extended supervision who had failed to report to his DOC agent for several months is now awaiting trial on 18 counts, 8 of them felonies, including the rape and murder of a 20 month old little girl (see below.) There are many points at which the justice system failed to keep the public safe from Giles, but if he had been locked up for a “crimeless” revocation, that little girl would not have suffered a torturous death at his hands.



The DOC’s most recent opioid overdose report indicates that opioid overdose hospitalizations among offenders released from prison increased 151% between 2013 and 2019, compared to an 89% increase in overdose hospitalizations overall. Roughly 5% of those released from prison or put on probation in that timeframe were hospitalized for an overdose within the first three months. Blowing off required drug treatment is not a crime. But if it’s an intervention that works, then non-compliance has serious consequences for offenders, and for the public.

And let’s not forget that violent crime has spiked in the state, and while much of the nation is seeing a decrease, Wisconsin’s homicide rate continues to climb, thanks largely to Milwaukee’s three straight record-breaking years of murder. Milwaukee’s liberal leadership unsurprisingly has not looked at the impact of the left’s Scold-and-Release policies in empowering criminals by removing consequences for violence; instead they recently blamed the legislature, COVID-19, and police violence.

The left is all in on fewer consequences for criminals, whether or not it makes our communities more dangerous. And they slap the label “evidence-based” on Scold-and-Release policies regardless of whether any evidence is involved.

No Evidence for Evidence-Based Programs

One issue LAB cited in the audit was that DOC could provide no information about their analysis of evidence supporting adoption of so-called evidence-based programs, or evidence that the evidence-based programs are working. DOC does not collect data that would allow evaluation of effectiveness of the services provided to offenders; they don’t even collect data to determine whether court-ordered services are offered or completed. And the agency has also not collected the data required to evaluate the effectiveness of their revocation reforms.

DOCs 2021 report to the legislature on the Becky Young Community Corrections Recidivism Reduction funding shows that offenders who participated in the Opening Avenues to Reentry Success (OARS) program – providing intensive case management, housing and treatment – have 3-year reconviction and reincarceration rates higher than similar offenders who did not participate in the program. We spend over $15,000 per participant for these results, but DOC touts the fact that offenders who complete the program have lower recidivism, but leaves out critical information about how many offenders drop out and the cost per successful participant.

DOC Response Meltdown

DOC did not bother to conceal their petulance over the findings of the nationally respected, non-partisan LAB. In their 10-page missive of angst responding to the LAB, DOC groused and griped about things they thought were wrong or unfair, while claiming the report says things it does not say and doesn’t say things it clearly does. The LAB needed 2 pages of bullet points to quite briefly rebut DOC’s thoroughly embarrassing assertions.

It went like this:

DOC: “LAB uses an incorrect metric in measuring whether a risk and needs assessment is timely”
LAB: “We relied on the timeliness standard required by DOC’s written policies”

DOC: “LAB used erroneous data”
LAB: “Our report’s analysis…relied on data provided by DOC”

DOC: ”LAB failed to clearly articulate survey results as opinions”
LAB: “Our report sections that present survey results are entitled “Opinions of DOC Agents,” “Opinions of Sheriffs,” etc.

Will DOC Right the Ship?

Program audits present an opportunity for policymakers to see whether the investments in programs are working and if government is carrying out its responsibilities. Often audits show some successes, some shortcomings, and recommendations from the LAB provide direction for improvement.

DOC quite obviously is unable to accept constructive feedback, and unwilling to admit shortcomings.

It’s difficult to imagine the agency has any intention of complying with audit recommendations when their response does not acknowledge any LAB finding as an area where DOC needs to improve.

One of the more troubling findings of any audit is that an agency is not following state statute. DOC shrugged off their lawbreaking like many of the inmates persons in their care shrug off theirs.

The agency’s response to the LAB finding that DOC is violating the law by failing to provide mandated day reporting services in 6 of 8 regions for a period of three full years was to lecture the legislative agency about what the legislature really meant. (DOC claims the legislature wants them to use their judgement when it comes to following statutes.)

Even recommendations from the LAB that DOC promulgate statutorily required rules was summarily rejected as “unnecessary.”

With budget deliberations on the horizon, the legislature would be wise to consider the findings of the audit – as well as the lack of evidence and data about the incredibly costly programs and supervision that are not achieving the goals of rehabilitation or public safety – as they fund the agency.