Making the Transition

new ‘Transition’ program aims to get smart on crime

Eric Larson, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Transition graduate Lindsay Danielson (left) with a program supervisor, Jessica Bryan (middle) and fellow program participant Newton Armstrong (right).
 
Transition graduate Lindsay Danielson
(left) with a program supervisor, Jessica
Bryan (middle) and fellow program participant
Newton Armstrong (right).
The recent and controversial construction of Eau Claire county jail continues to be a hot topic. Initially, the primary concern centered on its location in the Randall Park Neighborhood of historic homes, nestled along the banks of the Chippewa River, and just a hop, skip, and jump away from downtown. It seemed such a prime chunk of real estate should be used for something else. 

But location-related issues should be the least concern when it comes to our criminal justice industry, says Steve McArthy, executive director of Addictions and Restorative Justice Services at Lutheran Social Services. Instead, he says, the incarceration numbers of the state are what should be most upsetting. 

“The public is largely blind to the fact that Wisconsin spends nearly twice as much on corrections as Minnesota,” he said. “And that’s despite nearly identical demographics and crime statistics between the two states. We spend about $1.2 to $1.3 billion a year.”

Over the past several years, he says, county officials have debated ways to reduce the number of incarcerated, and the high rate of recidivism (offenders repeatedly coming and going to prison). According to Pew Research Center, one in 31 adults in the U.S. are on probation or parole, and one in 100 are behind bars.

After research and countless brainstorming sessions, McArthy says, a unique model called the Transition program was born. Funded by the odd partnership of the sheriff’s department, Eau Claire County, and the Department of Corrections, the program was awarded last August.

“(Transition) program is essentially used, as the name suggests, to help offenders on probation transition back into the community. We like to refer to it as a ‘smart on crime’ approach,” he says. “I say ‘smart on crime’ to contrast with the ‘tough on crime’ approaches that elected officials have used over the past 40 years that have resulted in the United States incarcerating people at the highest rate in the world. Our goal is to instead help offenders re-enter the community without reverting back to criminal activity.”

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