The number of Huber Law work-release prisoners at the Crawford County Jail is declining and there are a number of theories as to what’s causing the program to be used less.
There’s no doubt the numbers are down, both in real numbers and as a percentage of the overall jail population, according to statistics from the Crawford County Jail and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
From 2000 through 2006, the Annual Average Huber Count only dipped below 10 one year, when it was nine in 2004. Since 2007, the Average Annual Huber Count never reached 10 again; and in 2011 that count bottomed out at an average of just two.
Huber counts are reported for only the fifteenth day of each month, providing a snapshot of the monthly work release population. The Annual Average Huber Count is the average of those 12 days per year.
The Average Annual Daily Population is an average based on all 365 days as reported to the WDOC by the counties.
From 2000 through 2014 the daily population average of all prisoners in the Crawford County Jail also declined. This explains some of the drop in work-release prisoners, but not all of it.
The percentage of the Huber count as part of the daily population average also declined precipitously from 2000 through 2014. The declining percentage of prisoners participating in the work-release program discounts the idea that Huber numbers went down strictly as the result of a declining overall Crawford County Jail population.
For instance, from 2000 through 2003, the county jail’s Huber count was 40 percent of the daily population. However, from 2011 through 2014, the Huber count dropped to just 16 percent of jail inmates.
A low point in Huber prisoners in the Crawford County Jail was reached in 2012, when the Annual Average Huber Count declined to just two, while the Average Annual Daily Population was 25. That meant the Huber Count was just eight percent of the average daily population.
In 12 years from 2002 to 2014, the Average Annual Huber Count as a percentage of the Annual Average Daily Population declined from 44 percent to 8 percent.
Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick remembered 2012. He said the department considered putting general population prisoners into the Huber Dorm to better utilize the space and moving the Huber prisoners to a jail cell built to house from two to four prisoners.
The documented decreasing numbers of Huber work-release prisoners only confirms what the jail staff and other sheriff’s department personnel have been seeing for over a decade. The work release prisoners are declining both in real numbers and as a percentage of the general population.
Why is this occurring?
There are several ideas, but no one knows with certainty the reason for the decline in Huber Law prisoners.
A bad economy, a lack of suitable jobs for the prisoners, or a change in attitude toward work from the prisoners are just some of the explanations offered by sheriff’s department staff and others familiar with the situation.
Crawford County Clerk of Courts Donna Steiner has watched the declining use of Huber Law by jail inmates and the changes in the inmate population itself.
“Less are employed,” Steiner said of the current inmate population. “And, with the minimum wage jobs they could get, it doesn’t pay for them to work after they pay for their Huber and for transportation back and forth.”
Steiner noted that people arrested and jailed for failure to pay fines or forfeitures, as well as those arrested for failure to pay child support, are not eligible for work release. Failure to pay fines and forfeitures is one of the major reasons prisoners are incarcerated in Crawford County, she explained.
A Crawford County Huber Law prisoner is allowed to be out of the jail working or traveling to work for a total of 60 hours per week and can choose the six days per week they use for work release privilege. Additionally, a work release prisoner must pay $15 per day.
Steiner, like most others interviewed for this story, believes the Huber Law’s role is of major importance to the system.
“Nobody wants to see anyone allowed to lose a job, but there’s still a penalty that needs to be addressed,” Steiner said.
The clerk of courts acknowledged the attitude of prisoners had definitely changed over the years.
“There are a lot more immature 40-year-olds not taking responsibility for their actions,” Steiner said.
The current Crawford County Jail Administrator Lt. Russ Wittrig confirmed the use of Huber was much greater in 2000 than it is now. Like the others, he could only speculate as to the reason for the decline. The economy soured along the way and the jobs available may have changed. The role of alcohol and drugs may be more prevalent as an issue in the lives of current prisoners.
Wittrig also confirmed that many of those sent to the jail now do not hold jobs.
Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick acknowledged the decline in Huber Law prisoners at the Crawford County Jail, but like the others could only speculate as to the causes. The sheriff noted that more prisoners may be serving time for crimes not eligible for Huber Law or economics may be playing a role in the jobs available.
“Maybe people have gotten lazy and decided it’s easier not to work,” McCullick said in considering the reasons for the decline.
The sheriff also wondered if the types of jobs are changing and there’s less work in farming and logging than there used to be.
Like others, McCullick sees a need for Huber Law work release.
“Obviously, it allows people to support their family, that’s the most important thing,” the sheriff said.
Crawford County Circuit Court Judge James Czajkowski echoed McCullick’s take on the importance of allowing people to hold their jobs while serving jail sentences.
Crawford County Board Chairperson Pete Flesch was surprised to hear that Huber Law work release was declining in the county.
“I did not realize the trends,” Flesch said of the declining numbers of work release prisoners. “It’s definitely something worth looking into. Now, that I’m aware of it, it has peaked my interest.”
Flesch said Huber Law is a win-win situation that is good for the prisoner and good for the society.
Mary Stirling, from Crawford County Restorative Justice, was concerned with the trend of declining use of work release. She believes that it’s an important part of helping prisoners “reintegrate into society.”
As for the former Huber Law prisoners, there seems to be plenty of enthusiasm for the program.
A man who served 90 days with Huber Law work release a few years back was frank about the importance it made in his life.
“You get to retain your job and you don’t have to spend every waking minute in the slammer,” the man said of his Huber Law experience. He confirmed that without work release he almost certainly would’ve lost his job.
A woman who has served Huber Law on three occasions also confirmed the importance it played at least once in keeping a job she would otherwise have lost.
“For people who have children and jobs, Huber is real important,” the woman said.