Sheriff: finding alternatives to incarceration, jail expansion difficult as crime changes

Brown Co. Board urging all alternatives exhausted
Posted at 11:03 PM, Sep 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-22 00:03:12-04

GREEN BAY, WI -- The Brown County Sheriff says tackling the costly issue of an overpopulated county jail isn't easy.

Sheriff John Gossage says finding alternatives to incarceration has always been a priority, and it's getting harder as crimes become more violent. 
Gossage says, currently, Brown Co. Jail is at 93% capacity of its 715 inmate max. But with 10-20 arrests on average each night, he says that can change fast.
"The problem that we're seeing in the jail is we're not getting that low-level offender, if you will, that we used to see in the past," explains Sheriff Gossage after tonight's presentation to the Co. Board, "where it was a first time.. [drug] offense."
Gossage says ordinance violations, or misdemeanors make up just 3% of the jail's total population.
"And those that get sentenced, we like to put those out into the [electronic monitoring program]," explains Gossage, reemphasizing that it's been the Sheriff Department's goal of seeking alternatives to incarceration for years, "or we like to get them into some type of treatment court, to try and stop that recidivism rate." 
Currently the average stay in Brown County Jail is 59 days, up from 29 in 2001. From 1989 to 2001, Sheriff Gossage says the county has spent $14 million shipping, and housing overflow prisoners in other counties. 
"It is a hardship, not only on the inmates," explains Gossage, recalling the countless stories of inmates being split off from their visiting family members because they were shipped to a different jail, "but it's a hardship on the staff.. because it's additional work they're going to have to do." 
But as the need for a solution grows, the call to exhaust all alternatives to a $14 million expansion project are being echoed by county leaders.
"If we're going to do anything, I think we ought to look at the court system itself," says Green Bay Dist. 2 Alderman Tom De Wane, "are they getting the proper help they need? Do we have enough judges taking care of these cases? 
Tonight's presentation was largely educational, so no vote was taken on the jail's future.
County leaders plan to continue the discussion, and search for alternatives to an expansion.