Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Deputy Dawg Goes to Boot Camp

When I was in Texas last week – even in mellow, musical Austin – you could buy and there were all these people wearing cowboy hats. Very few of them were cowboys, but, for many, it’s part of the mystique and the lies of the “tough guys” of the Southwest – you and me against the world; the Marlboro Man, gun at his side; ain’t take no shit from no one; gristled, unshaven macho bravado covering the pain of impotence against a dry, ugly world. Peering from under the brim of his weather-beaten chapeau, the Southwest man can pretend he’s anyone from Matt Dillon to Toy Story’s Woody – and just as oblivious to pain and feeling. “Reach for the sky!” he shouts, as the Masters of the Economic Universe continue to piss on his head. The sun always sets on his knowing frown as he flops on his canvass cot, boots still on his dusty feet, to await the first light of the new, desperate day.

Milwaukee has its own walking fraud in a cowboy hat. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke can be seen some days strolling the Courthouse with the most ridiculous, ill-formed, straw cowboy hat you can imagine on his head and a constant scowl on his face. Although he is too wimpy to run for office as the tea-bagging Republican he is, Clarke wants you to know he is one tough hombre. And if he needs to pile on some extra bullshit to help his nut-right fellow traveler, Scott Walker, gain some tough-on-crime street cred, he’s more than willing to assist.  As he cranks up another campaign as a phony Democrat (the most blatant lie ever foisted on a Milwaukee County ballot), Clake is all pose and little substance -- a cartoon sheriff so self-serious one can only laugh.

Clarke’s newest bright idea is to run a boot-camp operation, adding a little pretend-tough correction in what used to be called the House of Corrections (until Clarke decided not to call it that). It’s a ludicrous idea; a meaningless show that is totally inappropriate for the kinds of prisoners held at the facility. But if there is a way to make those in his charge even more miserable than the mystery meat that they serve as “food” on a regular basis, he’ll do it. Sadly, the Journal Sentinel weighed in in favor of this charade in an editorial on Wednesday. Joel NcNally, still shackled to the dead weight of the Shepherd Express, makes the primary points against the expensive stunt in his column this week better than I ever could, as usual.

One point that hasn’t been explored, however, is how, of the several ways to land in the House of Correction, none of them make the typical prisoner very appropriate – much less receptive – to a dose of Clarke’s fantasy version of Tough Love. Among the various reasons for a temporary residence in Franklin:

  • Held on Cash Bail: There are many in the House who are held on cash bail while a case in pending. Surely, Clarke can’t think that someone, presumed innocent, sitting waiting for their case to be resolved, should be thrown into boot camp to sing for their meager supper. Hah! Of course he could. He said the program will eventually extend to the whole facility. Waiting for a little technicality like a conviction is for pussies.
  • Drunk Drivers: Spurred by dramatic news coverage, their own guidelines and a brand new toughening of state law, Milwaukee County judges have been handing down huge chunks of jail time for second, third and fourth drunk drivers (fifth and up -- and, as of July 1st, fourth -- face state prison). You might think that such offenders might benefit from a little rigid correction. But the fact is that drunk driving is one of the few crimes regularly committed by middle-class people. They had jobs before their arrest and they’ll have jobs after they are convicted and during their incarceration. These days (since the demise of the roach-infested CCC), the work-release prisoners stay in the downtown jail. The work they have to do to stay productive in the real world would seem to get in the way of Clarke’s phoney tough-guy play-acting.
  • Revoked Probationers: Judges don’t want to put guys in the House if they can just behave during a year or two of probation. Alas, that proves too much for some, who can’t keep their often-overbearing probation agents happy. If they can’t follow the (relatively) light structure on the street, what makes anyone think they would respond to having Clarke in his face, yelling about what a scumbag he is? What do you think the punishment would be for laughing at such ridiculous histrionics?
  • Chronic Petty Offenders: Pop Quiz – how do you manage to get a month or more in jail for petty offenses like retail theft, prostitution and disorderly conduct? Answer – get caught doing it ten or fifteen times. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a judge say “well, I gave you [fill in the blank] days last time, now I guess you need [blank] more days until you get the message”, I’d have a whole bunch of nickels. There people might not do it any more often than some other people, but they are extraordinarily bad at it. So, what would Sheriff Clarke’s School of Hard Knocks do for the kind of poor, often homeless people who find themselves desperate for food, clothing, money and attention? You can see him or his deputy, screaming in the face of the poor, incompetent thief. “You don’t want that loaf of bread, do you? You want to work to buy some food, don’t you? You looove paying for your food, don’t you? Now drop and give me 20!” Yeah. That’ll work.
  • Non-payment of Forfeitures: This is less of a reason for lock-ups than it used to be, but too many are still locked up for weeks at a time for failure to pay non-criminal forfeitures (it’s only called a fine in criminal cases. Your welcome.) So, how tough are we going to be on the loiterer, the speeder, the first-time weed possessor, the driving-while-revoked?
And so on. As McNally points out, there are some things the jailers can do in Franklin to make the time being served less than dead, such as education, AODA treatment and other real forms of rehabilitation -- programs like the CJRC that Clarke and Walker have tried to stop. The good judges of Milwaukee County would have to sign on to Clarke’s scheme to make it work – why cooperate with the silly program unless the judge says you are able to shave some time off for putting up with it?  Having helped save the CJRC, the judges have shown they have more sense than that.  Then Clarke will have to find some other way to grandstand.

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