Gambling on good behavior

In Milwaukee County, a man stands accused of a murder committed while he was sentenced to the Community Correctional Center in Franklin. His alibi: I was in jail at the time of the murder.

In Milwaukee County, a man stands accused of a murder committed while he was sentenced to the Community Correctional Center in Franklin. His alibi: I was in jail at the time of the murder.

In Douglas County, a man awaits trial for a 1993 murder committed while he was sentenced to serve jail time in connection with two incidents of domestic assault.

In both cases, the men were released from jail for the day to continue their employment.

The reality is criminals work among us.

In Douglas County alone, an average 60 to 90 prisoners spend up to 12 hours a day in the community on Huber work release or electronic monitoring. Officer Molly Wickersham watches over them -- stopping by workplaces, hunting up jobs, fielding calls from treatment centers and touching base with inmates each day. She runs the Douglas County Jail's Huber program solo, and has for the past five years.


"It's hard for one person to monitor all the time," Wickersham said, but the jail's work release policies and procedures help inmates tow the line.

"I try to run as tight a ship as I can," the officer said. "Communication is a big key."

In some ways, Huber work release is a gamble. For the cost of $17 a day, inmates at the Douglas County Jail can continue to work in the community. They can also choose to skip work and visit family. They can take drugs or alcohol before returning to jail or worse.

In September, a Milwaukee County inmate is accused of skipping work and having a friend sign him back into the Community Correctional Center in Franklin while he stayed out and killed a man. The case has focused scrutiny on the correction center's work release policies and procedures, which are not uniform throughout the state.

"Every department runs it differently," Wickersham said.

When she stepped into the Huber job in 2002, Wickersham changed the rules.

"I made them tougher," she said, by reviewing other department policies in the state and incorporating "the best of the best."

But, she acknowledged, something like that could still happen.


Huber release

Huber release allows inmates to continue their regular employment, go to treatment or care for their children. The Douglas County Jail currently has 45 inmates on either Huber or electronic monitoring. That number reflects the coming holiday season, Wickersham said. During the rest of the year, the number of inmates on release is between 60 and 90. Of those, about 20 are on electronic monitoring.

While Huber inmates stay in jail when not working, those on electronic monitoring are, in essence, shackled to their homes.

"At least half my people are out on electronic monitoring for medical (reasons)," Wickersham said, ranging from cancer to back problems. The other half tend to be DUI cases. Each person's request for electronic monitoring is dealt with on an individual basis.

"If any are cases that have victims, I will not put them on electronic monitoring," Wickersham said.

Inmates who get Huber release for work search don't generally leave the jail. Too often, they were located visiting their girlfriend instead of searching for work. Wickersham spends part of each day hunting up jobs for them, trying to match their interests.

Keeping track

The small number of inmates on Huber release helps Wickersham keep track of them.


"We know on an individual basis who's who," she said.

Wickersham touches base with each of them before an officer escorts them out in the morning. To return to the jail, inmates must buzz in. An officer escorts them in and the inmate must shower and be checked for contraband.

"We're pretty thorough," Wickersham said.

Each inmate wears a leg band with their picture, jail ID number and birth date on it, which also helps with identification.

That doesn't mean inmates don't slip.

"I've had before where people have come back drunk or done some drugs," Wickersham said.

One of the conditions of Huber release is agreeing to random urine and breath tests. If the inmate refuses a test, it is considered an admission of guilt.

The worst work release violation Wickersham dealt with took place five years ago. One of the inmates who volunteered for a local organization took the van he was driving on a high-speed chase through town.


Failing to follow the rules carries heavy penalties. Most inmates on Huber have a "good time" provision that allows them to be released after 3/4 of their sentence has been served. If they break a work release rule, Wickersham takes some of those days from them. A second offense costs them their Huber privileges.

Worst case

The 1993 murder of Myrna Jean Clemons in her Allouez home focused attention on Huber work release as well. The main suspect in the case, Clemons' boyfriend, Michael David Mattson, was on Huber work release at the time after being convicted of assaulting Clemons in two previous incidents. He was charged with first-degree reckless homicide in 1993, but the case was dismissed after preliminary hearing revealed insufficient evidence.

The case was reopened in 2004 by Superior police and the state Department of Justice. Interviews on the Clemons case were ongoing in last year when Mattson confessed to the murder. The case is set for trial in January.

Wickersham, who has been with the department for nine years, couldn't say whether policies changed after the Clemons homicide. She did say she beefed up policies when she took over the program in 2002.

And more oversight could be on the way.

"Jail administration is working on getting me part-time to full-time help," Wickersham said. "Just to do checks on people."

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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