How Sheriff Clarke Wrecked House of Correction
And how it’s been improved since he lost control.
Milwaukee County’s House of Correction (HOC) is going to the dogs — and that’s just one of dozens of ways our County tax dollars work harder than probably anywhere else with virtually no one knowing about it.
It all started in 2013 when County Executive Chris Abele brought in Michael Hafemann as HOC superintendent, as part of the County’s reacquisition of the HOC from Sheriff David Clarke. Under Clarke’s reign virtually all programs at the medium security facility were wiped out except for a DOTS (Discipline, Order, Training, Structure) version of boot camp, which by most evidence doesn’t work and may even be counterproductive.
About the dogs and other ventures. Superintendent Hafemann and Program/Employment Director Jose Hernandez plan to turn unused dormitories into dog kennels to engage inmates in socializing and training strays for adoption and as support and therapy dogs in conjunction with the Wisconsin Humane Society.
As an advocate for fundamental justice reform, I have been immersed in systems change in Milwaukee for 28 years. Never have I seen justice so decimated as it was under Sheriff David Clarke at the HOC. Nor have I ever experienced the incredible rapid-fire development of all-encompassing programs and operations benefitting inmates, corrections workers and the community as Hafemann and crew have wrought.
There is so much positive action at the HOC, the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board will soon open an official American Job Center there. Through a combination of programs, inmates who never finished school work to achieve a a GED and benefit from pre-college testing by Milwaukee Area Technical College. From there a huge array of constructive work-related programs span out. Some happen onsite and some involve transporting inmates to training facilities, including 45 bused at company expense to work at the Ralston Purina plant in Fort Atkinson.
Then there’s Vermiculture, informally known as the worm farm. Created in an unused portion of an old housing building, the farm provides worm casings (organic fertilizer) to the parks, local gardens, and the Hunger Task Force farm, as well as actual worms to feed reptiles at the Zoo. Worms are even shipped free by the crate-load to support a fishing camp up North serving veterans and their families.
The decades-old Huber program that enabled nonviolent offenders to be released for work every day was virtually shuttered by the Sheriff, along with electronic monitoring. Now inmates stretch tax dollars providing services to citizens throughout Milwaukee County, working under supervision cleaning up County Parks, the Zoo, highways, and festival grounds. They assist UW-Extension with garden upkeep and aid in county projects, including clean-out of foreclosed homes scheduled for renovation.
More than 15 programs, often operated in collaboration with community and faith organizations, provide mental, emotional and physical enrichment to inmates, including pre-release planning, along with community support and followup. Hafemann has even overcome red tape to prepare inmates to enroll for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act — they sign their applications on the bus to release.
Notably, all this is happening with no requests for additional funding. Grants and partnerships significantly expand the reach of our tax investment. Inmate work saves nearly $250,000 operational dollars. And at the Recycling Center inmates collect and sort recyclables, including all electronics from Milwaukee County government agencies, resulting in revenue of more than $10,000.
The end result: at the entrepreneurial HOC troubled individuals are refocusing their lives and all Milwaukee is a safer, more prosperous community.