Republican lawmaker: Why do we lock up so many people?

2013-02-03T06:00:00Z Republican lawmaker: Why do we lock up so many people?JACK CRAVER | The Capital Times |

State Rep. Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids, is no liberal. He is one of nine lawmakers who called for the arrest of federal officials who come to Wisconsin to implement Obamacare, he supports a "right-to-work" law here and Wisconsin Right to Life gives him a 100 percent "pro-life" rating.

However, on the issue of criminal justice, Krug often sounds like a progressive Democrat. A former Juneau County sheriff’s deputy who later administered a program in Wood County that helped to reintegrate inmates into society, Krug is adamant that the state imprisons far too many people, often wasting hundreds of millions of dollars turning people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction into hardened criminals.

This session, sitting on the Assembly Corrections Committee, Krug hopes to advance legislation that would redirect non-violent offenders from prison to rehabilitative programs.

With a governor who brags about his role in crafting the "tough on crime" measures that contributed to the status quo, it would seem all-but-impossible for Krug to win on such an issue. But it wouldn't be the first time Krug has accomplished something presumed impossible — he won his first election in 2010 by taking out former Rep. "Snarlin'" Marlin Schneider, the longest-serving member of the Assembly in state history.

He sat down with the Cap Times to talk about his views on prisons and inmates.

The Capital Times: The other day you told me that many Republicans think you sound like a Democrat when you talk about corrections. What's that about?

Rep. Scott Krug: Yeah, I hear that more often than not. What I try to convince people in my caucus of is that some of the principles I have when it comes to corrections are really, truly conservative principles. When you're talking about trying to find the best value for your dollar, you don't want to warehouse people at $28,000 a year when you can effectively do the same job for half of that, or you can do an effective job having (offenders) pay you to do it.

Plus we're still actually getting to our goals of rehabilitating people in the community, which we're not doing when we put people in a facility.

I don't know how the default position in the Republican caucus has typically been “lock 'em up and throw away the key.” I don't know where that philosophy came from.

CT: Isn't it about being tough on crime?

SK: It could be, but I can tell you that it's a lot tougher on crime when I'm having a guy report to a day program twice a day, three times a week, because I know he doesn't want to do that. The propensity of human nature is “if I have to do less, I probably will.” But if I have a guy report to me six times a week and have to go through drug testing, family counseling, all these other steps — that's a lot more burdensome on him than sitting in a jail cell and watching cable TV all day. Maybe that's just me, but it seems like they're getting the easy way out just sitting in jails.

CT: What do you think about the state of our prisons? Are people in prison getting rehabilitative services?

SK: I don't think they are getting nearly enough. The pendulum swings from punishment to rehabilitation and it just seems like in Wisconsin the pendulum has been stuck on punishment for the last two decades. I just had the secretary of (the Department of) Children and Families in here and we were talking about how difficult it is for people released from jails and prisons to get back into their family life because they have such huge burdens on the outside that were never dealt with while they were incarcerated. They have huge child support loads, they have huge restitution loads, they don't know their kids because they've been locked up for 10 or 15 years. How do you warehouse somebody for that long and expect them to go outside the cell doors and be a perfectly normal human being again? It just doesn't work.

Look at Minnesota. In Wisconsin we have twice as many people in facilities as we do in community protection programs, like probation. In Minnesota it's the inverse.

Their crime rates are just about the same as ours. If Minnesota can do the same thing we're doing for half the cost, I think the model of having more people supervised in the community as opposed to sitting in facilities is probably better. If all things are equal, and you could spend a billion dollars less every two years, you probably want to go with that model.

CT: So what did you think about ending the early-release program last year?

SK: Well that was one of my bills, actually. Because I don't think that if you have somebody who's been incarcerated for a year that letting them off the last two months with no new (rehabilitative) program at all helps them either. What you need to do is help them on the front end. We want to make sure that before somebody gets into the prison system that we weed out individuals (who can be helped) to prevent them from having that in-between period in prison where they're in prison, meeting new connections, meeting new drug dealers and learning how to be better criminals.

CT: But wasn't the idea of the early-release program to incentivize good behavior and participation in treatment programs?

SK: Yes and no. It goes back to who you want making those decisions. The program didn't ask a sentencing judge if it's OK to release this individual, it asked a non-elected bureaucratic board to release an individual if it meets their criteria.

CT: So who should go to prison?

SK: Violent criminals. If you have a propensity for violence, I don't know if we'll be able to rehabilitate you. There's just some things we can't fix. But when we're talking about nonviolent offenders — drug issues, financial issues — those aren't the people we need to be warehousing.

CT: But it seems that, even with violent criminals, we eventually allow people out for anything short of murder.

SK: I know, but the biggest effect I can have is with people with alcohol and other drug abuse issues. We have really effective treatment programs. If you have those issues, we can get you treatment for a better bang for our buck and make you a better citizen, because we know how to deal with those issues. If we don't know how to treat (violent criminals) right now, the best I can do is treat the people I know we can affect. I ran a drug court in Wood County for four years. I know we can make a difference for those individuals.

I ran the discharge planner program in Wood County ... making sure people who were being released didn't come back in, so if they had a problem they could call me and I'd make some referrals — tell them “Hey, go talk to this person, go do this — whatever I can do to help you not come back (to jail)." We took recidivism down from 81 percent to 18 percent in two years. All it took was for a local jail to fund one position.

CT: So how receptive are your Republican colleagues to your prison positions?

SK: It's tough to say. Some are very libertarian-minded individuals who get my viewpoint. Some are very fiscally conservative individuals who understand that viewpoint. The end game is the same for a lot of different people but it's about figuring out how to get to that end game with them. They want to take different routes to get there. A lot of Democrats have the same views as mine but they want to do a lot of different things along the way to get there.

There are individual Democrats I've talked to who think people should be released just to be released — that it's an inherently flawed system and people just don't deserve to go to prison for anything. My goal is to selectively figure out who deserves to be in prison and let those out that we can work with.

CT: Do you think in this increasingly polarized environment that a bill could pass without the support of Republican leadership? Perhaps a coalition of Democrats and a few Republicans, like you?

SK: I don't want to get to the point where we have to go to the floor and do a polling motion to get a bill out of committee (rather than have leadership push the bill) and get it passed that way. I'm realistic. I know sometimes that some of my ideas won't come to the floor. That's where my job is to build bigger coalitions and build on my relationships with people in leadership.

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(22) Comments

  1. Akklia
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    Akklia - February 09, 2013 5:38 pm
    Wow. And, here I'd just decided our current culture and its NeoRepublican SuperMajorities preferred to lock people up.

    So, after reading the article, what about simple elementary education equal to all regardless of the perceived socio-economic value of the houses of the district a particular school may serve? I don't have far to look, North Side Madison, in fact, to see school districts divided along what may be racial lines. And, one of the schools may be docked funding on what appears to be a parent problem of assuring the attendance of the youngsters...

    And, now that I'm going through the 4K experience with my kid, I think 4K is excellent for the badly parented and twelve hour daycare kids...I'm not too impressed with what has happened with some behaviors of our child who was preschooled by yours truly with the Scream Free parenting philosophy and a credit card with ample enough room to allow us to take advantage of the MSCR programs...

    Anyway, 4K is a good start, and, while the ultra far right may scream with anger that preschool age children are fed breakfast in 4K (why don't their parents share with them is the answer I got), I think further defunding the schools and not bothering to update school buildings is not the answer to keeping these future adults out of prison...

    Unless, that is, the Private Prison Lobby is bigger than I think....
  2. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - February 05, 2013 12:09 am
    " We treat our prisonersso well that many people actually commit crimes to get thrown in."

    Really? Can you back that up with anything?

  3. NotleftorrightR
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    NotleftorrightR - February 04, 2013 11:44 am
    We should look at more Community Corrections. Keeping offenders out of prison and on the streets means that they can work, pay taxes, raise thier children and be a functioning part of the community.. The problem with Community Corrections is actually supervising the offender. We have too few agents and too many limits on how they can supervise offenders on community release. Part of a strong Probation system is the use of short term custody holds in the local county jail as a corrective measure for violating terms of supervison. County Sheriff's are starting to refuse "probation holds" in order to reduce thier costs. If you want to be on probation instead of serving your time in prison or jail, you should be required to maintain full time employment, pay for the cost of having a GSP bracklet which tracks your movements, have drug testing at least weekly, have weekly home visits in which the agent can if they wish search the home. Before we empty out the prisons we need to invest in Community Corrections. Many more agents are need and the resources to track and supervise offenders need to be improved. The cost per offender will be higher but much less then prison. Also DOC should have select teams of agents who have full police powers so DOC does not have to depend on local police and sheriff's when it comes time to going out into the community to picked offenders who are in violation. Our Community Corrections system needs to be improved and enlarged before they are forced to supervise more offenders.
  4. Oscar
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    Oscar - February 03, 2013 10:56 pm
    Mr. Krug should check with tommy thompson and walker about all the money they took from the CCA before making a statement like he has. tommy and walker have taken all the money that the feds will give them in aid to the state. My friend in corrections has told me that the Parole Board has quit letting people out early. walker has not pardoned anyone. Krug has no clue what he is doing, defying his masters.
  5. marlori
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    marlori - February 03, 2013 6:06 pm
    the money goes to class sizes, etc. because the schools are in the business of education, not mental health. If someone wants to look at the definition of education, so be it. Yes, schools feed students so they are ready to learn, and maybe they need to do more counselling so students are ready to learn. But this means more discussion of a school's role in socieity. And of course, budgeting to meet the needs.
  6. DriveThru
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    DriveThru - February 03, 2013 4:56 pm
    Wow, a sensible republican. I guess actually having worked in the prison system can smarten anyone up. This is the first interview with a republican I've read in its entirety in years. The BS is usually so thick, you just move on to the real world. I hope he succeeds and the GOP stops wasting so much of my tax dollars locking up minor drug offenders.
  7. TopOfCenter
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    TopOfCenter - February 03, 2013 4:05 pm

    Like the "fiscal responsibility" we are swing in Springfield, IL, Sacramento, CA, and Washington D.C.?
  8. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - February 03, 2013 3:33 pm
    YES!!! Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!

    Finally, something that sensible people from both sides of the aisle can agree on!

    Who knows, maybe it could become a habit.
  9. Report Abuse
    - February 03, 2013 3:23 pm
    No, he voted to cut money from the Teachers and other public employees....not from the schools.
  10. Report Abuse
    - February 03, 2013 3:22 pm
    China has a much more effictive deterrant. Have you seen their prisons? Wow, no one, and I mean no one wants to go there. We treat our prisonersso well that many people actually commit crimes to get thrown in.
    for all those who are in favor of this - Are you volunteering to have them live in your neighborhood?
  11. Shake
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    Shake - February 03, 2013 2:45 pm
    Perhaps Krug should discus this with his ALEC buddies who push for laws privatizing prisons.
  12. Profit
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    Profit - February 03, 2013 1:52 pm
    The U.S. has more prisoners than China has (true story), and China is a communist country with over a billion more citizens. It's good to see some conservatives are *finally* realizing how absurd our incarceration rate is. Will other republicans see the light, or will they continue to adhere to the politically expedient "tough on crime" mantra? Time will tell... Kudos to Krug for taking the intitiative.
  13. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - February 03, 2013 1:05 pm
    "There are individual Democrats I've talked to who think people should be released just to be released — that it's an inherently flawed system and people just don't deserve to go to prison for anything."

    Really? I call billshut.
  14. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - February 03, 2013 1:04 pm
    You mean like California?
  15. gkmoynihan
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    gkmoynihan - February 03, 2013 10:33 am
    Perhaps you could explain to us all then why states under republican control have been running surpluses while states in the worst financial shape are controlled by democrats.
  16. Jambalaya
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    Jambalaya - February 03, 2013 9:25 am
    Why can't Krug admit that this is a common sense, fiscally responsible, and wholly *progressive democrat* idea. Come on. Who does he think he's fooling. Reminds me of the farce that the Republican party is the party of fiscal responsibility. Nothing could be further from the truth.
  17. TKO_in_WI
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    TKO_in_WI - February 03, 2013 9:24 am
    Your comment about very little educational budget money going for mental health services makes no sense. Obviously there must be priorities when there are very few resources to pay for needed programs and some budget items get more attention than others, but cutting money for education is cutting money for all the needed programs. The hypocrisy is why is Rep. Krug supporting programs for criminals that need help and not for public school students that need help. Don't you think there is a little politics going on here?
  18. Billie
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    Billie - February 03, 2013 8:57 am
    TKO.....very little of the eductaion budget goes for mental health services for students. So your comment about Krug is non sense, more poolitics and hypocrisy.

    If you look at school budgets, there hasn't been a suggestion to increase counselors and therapists.Money is usually spent on decreasing class size, slalries and beniftis or new buildings.

    But your idea deserves a look.

  19. Billie
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    Billie - February 03, 2013 8:53 am
    Gangs? What would they fight and kill for?
    On this one point you are not thinking clearly.......what happened to the gangs that ran booz during prohibition? They are still here. They moved into otherwise legitiamate businesses and became extortionists. Some became politicians!!!! Google "Michael Lock" - milwaukee" Drug dealer turned mortgage broker turned prisoner. There are several more right here in Wisconsin.

  20. TKO_in_WI
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    TKO_in_WI - February 03, 2013 8:36 am
    Put the mental health programs in the public schools and try to stop the problem before it's too late, but Rep. Krug voted to cut the money for education. A lot of politics and hypocrisy!
  21. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - February 03, 2013 8:29 am
    Krug is correct.

    The US should legalize all drugs and tax them. With the tax money set up the best rehab centers and requirement drug abuse education classes for grade, high schools and beyond.

    Drug Cartels? Gone!
    Terrorism? Becomes underfunded.
    Gangs? What would they fight and kill for?
    Prisons? Saved for real criminals, not addicts.

    Legalizing drugs does not open the flood gates, the gates have been open for decades. Any high school kid that wants drugs can get them under the current system. But alcohol is hard for them to get because it's sold in stores that require a legal age to purchase.
  22. stcroixcarp
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    stcroixcarp - February 03, 2013 7:43 am
    Improved access to mental health and substance abuse programs could go a long way to reducing costs and improving the lives of our citizens, not only the offender but the spouses and children. Rep. Krug's ideas deserve action.
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