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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Good Officers, Bad Drugs Cause Jail Overcrowding

Issue Date: April 28, 2021

Good work by officers, a huge increase in drug traffic, some remarkably stupid criminals, and problems related to the Covid pandemic have combined to create a severe overload problem at the Marinette County Jail. That problem, and ways to resolve it, were the main item of discussion at the quarterly meeting of the Marinette County Criminal Justice Information Sharing Committee on Friday, April 16.

The crowding issue was made more difficult by the Covid pandemic and resulting in distancing requirements. Covid issues also led to reducing some of the programs for jail inmates.

Physical and mental health conditions of prisoners also have been adding to difficulties for jailers, particularly in recent months.

In the years since the committee began its work, the entire Criminal Justice team in Marinette county has been cooperating to keep the prisoner count down, by programs to prevent repeat offenses - including Drug Court and Mental Health Court - and by finding alternate means of punishment, including electronic monitoring and increased use of the bracelet system for inmates with Huber Law work-release privileges.

Members present for the 8 a.m. meeting on April 16 were Jail Administrator Bob Majewski, committee chair; Sheriff Jerry Sauve, District Attorney DeShea Morrow, Clerk of Courts Sheila Dudka, MPD Chief John Mabry, Probation & Parole Representative Chad Poverski, County Administrator John LeFebvre, Department of Health and Human Services Administrator Glenn Sartorelli, County Board Supervisor Gail Wanek, Judge James Morrison, and Public Defender Bradley Schraven, School Representative Matt Hanson, Brain Barrette, and Dorothy Sadowski. Also on-hand Programs Sgt. Joe Moser, MPD Lt. Joseph Nault, Administrative Specialist Lindsey Lesperance, Administrative Specialist Sarah Bergeson, and representatives of the press.

Moser reported on jail inmate programs. Currently four inmates in the GED program, 26 tests administered this year with 22 passing and an overall success rate of 85%. 229 individuals have completed the GED program since it first began. Two inmates were enrolled in the high school program, and this school year two individuals had received their HSED from Marinette School district.

There currently were no community service programs but work is being done to restart them, Moser said. Current programs are anger management with 17 participants for the year to date, and a Seeking Safety Support Group for trauma AODA.

A Victim Impact Panel is scheduled for May 6, with 47 participants expected.

Moser said he recently received approval to start integrated jail programming and they will be reaching out to volunteers in the coming weeks in regard to availability, scheduling, etc.

"Getting programming up and running again is good," declared Sheriff Sauve.

Majewski agreed, adding the programs give inmates something constructive to do, rather than destructive. He said the extremely high numbers of prisoners coming into the jail is largely due to "an outrageous number of meth cases," and added that 90 percent of the 87 pre-sentenced inmates are there due to drug charges.

"It's been unprecedented," District Attorney Morrow agreed.

Majewski said were it not for the 14 inmates on work release or electronic monitoring, the prisoners sent to Oconto, and the 10 recently transported to state prison, the jail population would have been 160 - well beyond its capacity.

Majewski presented the jail population report. There were 134 inmates housed in jail, 10 had recently been transported to Oconto County Jail waiting for transport to State Prison, and 14 were out on work release monitoring and Soberlink.

He said a high number of the inmates have medical issues, and at one time they had 14 inmates going through detox. Several of those with mental health issues must be isolated, and an 84-year-old prisoner requires constant medical attention. They had one inmate in the hospital since Sunday, and hospitalized inmates must be guarded.

"We need to talk to the County Administrator about more help for our nurses," Majewski said. "The recent workload has been hard on staff."

Sauve agreed with that, stating another of the jail workers had resigned the previous day. "This is as challenging a time as I've ever seen," Suave added. He urged a resolution to the crowding problem before they are forced to put more prisoners in another county at the expense of Marinette County taxpayers. "This committee was established because of jail overcrowding," Sauve said. He added that after that the new jail was built, ""and now we're there again." He said before he suggested expanding the jail he wants to be sure all other ways to keep prisoner counts down have been explored.

Judge Morrison commented that 42 of the current inmates were in jail either due to possession of meth or manufacture with intent to deliver, and asked, "How many of these people can we allow on the streets?" He said he is willing to be reasonable about it, but he and Judge Jane Sequin make public safety their chief priority and will continue to do so.

Morrison said due to the state-wide public defender shortage, he had even released someone without a pre-sentence investigation.

Sauve said he had learned at a recent Sheriff's meeting that from time of the arrest to sentencing, justice in Marinette County is among the swiftest in the state.

Morrison agreed and added the public defender here is extremely cooperative. Adding to difficulties in court scheduling, there have been eight or nine defendants in some recent cases, and each needs to be defended by a separate attorney.

Sauve suggested putting together bullet points of things that could be done. Morrison agreed with that idea, but added, "We will not compromise public safety.

Referring to criminal stupidity, Morrison asked, "Why does someone with $25,000 of heroin in their car drive into town with a headlight out, or expired license plates?" and added, "The problem is, your officers are too darn good!"

Majewski asked for input from committee members for ideas to improve our local criminal justice system and resourceful ways to help alleviate high jail populations. There was a brief discussion on organizing a sub-committee to work on that problem. Morrison suggested having this committee meet more often than four times a year.

"I have watched the judges agonize over how they can get someone out of jail," Sauve said, adding he does not believe they have anyone in jail now that doesn't need to be there, and commenting, "I don't like electronic monitoring"If they are supposed to be in jail, they should be in jail."

Majewski noted at one point they held 15 people in jail because they couldn't post bonds of less than $5,000, and wondered if they could do something different with them.

Schraven said during "surge times" like now, all counties are sharing this problem, much of it due to a shortage of defense attorneys. He said Green Bay is looking for attorneys for 300 cases. Majewski wondered if they could get attorneys from Milwaukee to handle cases virtually, but was told that is already being done here, but everybody else is doing it too.

He told Morrison and Sauve he appreciates that they allow inmates to hold private calls with the attorneys.

"We'll look at anything that doesn't impair public safety," Morrison said, adding that the workload for himself and Judge Sequin is extremely heavy. Marinette and Oconto counties are the only two counties in the state that do not have individual assistants for their judges, he said, "I can't even get my typing done!"

He said the previous day they had a man in the hearing room at the jail with four officers guarding him, ""because the guy was so volatile."

Drug Court is back to in-person staffing. There are currently 20 participants, two inmates pending acceptance, and four others under assessment. It was noted that these people also would be in jail were it not for drug court.

Heidi Blaszczyk reported the Mental Health Court program started in October 2018 and she took over in August 2020. Mental Health Court currently had four participants, and its first graduate, who is also the first member ever enrolled in Mental Health Court. An invitation-only graduation celebration will be held at the Marinette Rec Center from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 6.

Wanek praised drug court, and declared, "Society itself doesn't accept mental health issues"It's kept under a rock and should be brought out into the light." Schraven said without the treatment they get today, lots of the people with mental health issues would be back in jail regularly.

Poverski reported the P&P Day Reporting Center was operating virtually but had opened its doors as of April 3. He said in-person groups will return when staff is ordered back to the office full time.

Some new rules are that 17-year-olds will no longer be lodged in jail. They will be brought to a Juvenile Detention Center in Sheboygan instead if they need secure detention.

Majewski commented some of the laws are backward. Juveniles can't join the military until they are 18, can't drink a beer or smoke a cigarette until they are 21, and can be put in jail with adult offenders at age 17. "Who are they in with, and who do they learn from?" Majewski demanded, adding that it is impossible to keep the young inmates separated from the older, experienced ones.

Schraven declared there are a shocking number of kids in jail who are in foster homes and have no stable families.

Sartorelli added another problem is the difficulty of finding any released prisoner a place to live unless they have families willing and able to have them.

There was discussion on grants that may be available for drug addiction, mental health treatments, and related problems, and hope that the state will make more money available for that in its 2022 budget.

At the end of the meeting, Sheriff Sauve recognized Marinette Police Chief John Mabry, who will be retiring soon. "Thank you for all your years of service. It's been a privilege working with you," Sauve told him.


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