Clock restarting and Wisconsin’s Revocation Problem

A quirk in Wisconsin’s Truth in Sentencing law increases the “churning” in and out of prison via revocation and creates the possibility for massive injustice & increases costs.[i] A Wisconsin sentence has a total length that is divided into two parts, imprisonment and extended supervision in the community. If a person is revoked, the maximum time spent inside prison is the sum of these two. So, for example, a person who is sentenced to five years in and five years on extended supervision will spend a maximum of 10 years in prison on that sentence (assuming they commit no new offense) even if revoked from community supervision. However, if a person is revoked, when they are released again, the clock starts over on the extended supervision time (up to the original total sentence length). This rule puts people who are revoked at longer and therefore greater risk for further revocations due to lengthening the period of extended supervision.

The worst-case scenario from an offender’s point of view is a long period of successful extended supervision followed by a short period in prison on a crimeless revocation. Let’s say a person has a sentence that initially involves five years of extended supervision and does well until being revoked in month 59 and goes back into prison for, say, 6 months. When they get out, they have another 54 months of extended supervision to serve. If they were again revoked in month 53 for six months, when they got out they’d have another 47 months of extended supervision left. After only two last-month revocations to short prison stays, the person would already have been in prison for 6 years and supervised for  or 13.25 years for a total punishment of 19.25 years instead of the original 10. On the one hand, this is an extreme example, but on the other hand, according to the rule, revocations could keep happening and this could go on even longer: in this extreme example there could be a total of ten six-month revocations and a total of 26.6 years under community supervision in addition to the 10 years in prison, for a total punishment period of 36.6 years.

Most crimeless revocations happen within the first two years after release. In this scenario, a person who was repeatedly revoked in month 18 of supervision would still be under supervision for 13.5 years for a total time of punishment of 23.5 years and a person repeatedly revoked in month 12 of supervision could have a total of 19.5 years of punishment.

I am told that there are offenders who decide it is in their interest to get back into prison and just serve all their time inside, rather than risk this revolving door.

Among many other things, this rule coupled with disenfranchisement as long as a sentence is still being served creates a group of people who have essentially permanent disenfranchisement, as well as being permanently under surveillance by the state.

It is also a very costly provision. Although most attention has been focused on the high cost of imprisonment, and this provision increases the likelihood of an offender returning to prison by increasing the time at risk, the the community supervision time itself is also costly.

UPDATE:  An article by Anthony Cotton in the Wisconsin Law Journal Blog written in September 2016 addresses this issue.

The document link posted by commenter Karen Reece comes from the State Public Defender’s web site; the last example in the document shows how total time can be extended.

Statute relevant to “sentence credit” which explicitly says that credit toward the sentence comes only from custody:  http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/973/15/8/a/1

[i] I consulted with a DOC representative to be sure I understand this rule correctly. There is very little publicly-available explanation of the rule, although I had heard of the issue from prisoner advocates, and I was told than even some people working for DOC in administrative positions do not fully understand the rule.

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