STURTEVANT — Eighteen inmates dropped a combined 15 years from their prison sentences this November when they were released early from Racine Correctional Institution.

They were part of the Earned Release Program which allows inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes to leave prison early if they complete a substance abuse program. State and prison officials say it helps reduce the chance of criminals reoffending.

By taking an intensive six-month program in prison to curb substance addictions and related criminal behavior, those 18 inmates collectively shaved 5,723 days off their sentences, freeing up their beds by about 10 months apiece on average, according to the Department of Corrections. The time they would have served is added to their extended supervision time, which they spend out of prison but still under state supervision.

By RCI’s estimates, those 5,723 days would have cost the state about $521,000. However, state officials note that this calculation does not factor in some costs and the possibility that released inmates may go back to prison.

How it works

When the Earned Release Program was introduced to two state prisons in 2004, the intent was to safely identify a release valve for its participants, according to Tony Streveler, research and policy director at the DOC. The goal is to reduce their risk of reoffending, he said.

Introduced to RCI in 2007, the program is designed to help inmates curb addictions as well as instill lawful lifestyles, according to Tina Ettinger, who supervises the program at the Sturtevant prison.

It focuses on inmates convicted of crimes related to use of illegal drugs or alcohol and who are flagged during the sentencing process as being eligible to participate.

“Pretty much any inmate, as long as they have a substance abuse problem at sentencing, is eligible,” Ettinger said. “Basically you cannot be a sex offender or commit a violent crime with a weapon.”

Enrolled inmates are housed together, separate from the rest of the prison while they participate in either a program focusing on drug abuse or alcohol abuse.

Inmates must have at least nine months left to serve in prison in order to participate, RCI Deputy Warden Ronald Malone explained.

The program includes classes meant to “change criminal thinking,” focusing on victim impact, relapse prevention, stress and anger management and basic social skills, Ettinger said.

Enrolling in GED classes is also a component of the program for inmates without a high school diploma, she said.

This year, 230 inmates enrolled in the regular program focusing on illegal drug use and 80 inmates enrolled in the program focusing on those convicted of drunken driving, according to DOC data.

The state was unable to provide data on how many inmates completed the program this year at RCI, but it has grown from 170 inmates enrolled in 2008 to 310 inmates enrolled in both the drugs and alcohol programs in 2013, according to the DOC.

On average, the drug program has a completion rate of 76 percent since the program started in 2007, and the drunken driving program has an average completion rate of 72 percent since it began in 2011.

More than 800 inmates completed the program at RCI from 2007-12, according to state data.

Reducing repeat crimes

Despite the program being relatively new and difficult to judge, Streveler said data collected in 2012 show it is working. He said the best way to judge success is to look at the program’s recidivism rate: how many of its alumni end up being convicted of a new crime.

Streveler and other analysts followed inmates released in 2009 statewide for about three years after their release.

That data showed a recidivism rate of about 21 percent for those who completed the program, compared with about 27 percent for those eligible to be in the program who did not participate and about 23 percent of the overall population released.

However, state and local officials acknowledged there will always be some criminals that will continue to commit crimes no matter how effective programs such as the Earned Release Program may be.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Malone said. “Even though it is a good program, sometime people who complete the program will get in trouble again.”

Calculating savings

Racine Correctional Institution officials say it costs about $91 per day to house an inmate in the prison system. Based on that number, officials say the state can “avert” tens of thousands to millions of dollars in costs when releasing prisoners early.

However, exact savings of releasing an inmate early are hard to calculate.

The $91 it costs to hold a prisoner per day figures in costs like security and heat, expenses that do not go away with the release of several dozen prisoners, according to Tony Streveler, research and policy director at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

While the earned release program reduces days served in prison for individual inmates, there is no real savings to the department until they are able to close down a wing or see other forms of savings, he said.

He further explained that an inmate released through this program and then sent back to prison would negate any projected savings, although Streveler’s data showed the chance of recidivism is reduced when inmates complete the earned release program.

(14) comments


what is wrong with people?These are people some don't need to be in prison everybody in prison aint a criminal just because they labled as that!Some people are falsely in prison you idiots!If you don't know the full truth of prison you need to shut up!Everybody don't re-offend and some programs do help, the problem is we don't have enough of them and they are not given the right programs they need!

jasons wife

I am a recovering herion addict. I have 18 months clean . My husband was also a herion addict . He started drinking to substitute vary quickly did his drinking become a problem he got 2 DUiS back to back one in Illinois and one In Wisconsin he just got out of prison In Illinois after 10 months and drank the same day these duis r from 2012 we hired a lawyer for the walworth county dui . He jas neem to prison 4 times and on wends nov 25th 15 to 2 yrs by judge carlson . He had no idea of whay was going on half the time during trial and the da said a lot that was not allowed at trial and he went with everything she asked he does not belong on the bench he was given the max for his 3rd DUI . Its like they beleave prison is the cure . I to have been to prison 4 times I didn't get clean becuz I went to prison I got clean when I could no longer take the way I was living and decided to change . Prison is the easy way out. I believe if he was given chance with a alcohol braclet and a chance to be in society w/o drinking I would of became a routine to learn how to deal w/ life w/o drinking he will not change intill he is absolutely ready I'm still on shock on how walworth choose to handle this . His mother is dieing from lung cancer and I'm pregnant and we needed him. He was given a pre sentence ing investigation that came back in his favor . And the judge went w/ the DA's offer who new nothing about my husband . The women who did the psi new his whole life history and made the recamindation for help . The judge stated he needs to protect the community. All he's doing is putting a hold on the community's safety . W/ this prisom sentence like I said prison does nothing . My husband is still sick and will be for life intill sombody believe's In him to help him w/ the coping skills he needs to overcome his drinking !!! Please share this so our addicts can get the help they need . Our addiction inprisons us everday if this is the approach they use . Then we might as well just locked us up and throw away the key !!!!!

Big B
Big B

judges give erp at sentencing...its very hard to get into and.wisconsin.has very.little people..its.all.punishment no sounds like a right step


Judges only make an offender ELIGIBLE for ERP, which can be denied by DOC once the offender is in the system. If the DOC grants a bed date, the offender has to sign a page stating he is voluntarily entering a program about which he is told little. It is not voluntary, however. It is all carrot and stick: You accept the program or you do your entire sentence. This is not rehabilitative care. This is a cost-saving measure, with vague cost savings so far and no accountability for the program's content, expenses or failures in terms of recidivism. For a narrow group of (usually) non-violent offenders, ERP is a response to the elimination of "good time" aka time off for good behavior.

You Wish

I'll bet if these animals were released to homes next to the judges homes, they(judges) would wet their pants and think twice about releasing them.

Big tough guys/girls to release them as long as it doesn't affect them.

That's the motto of these city leaders. How many street lights were removed in Dickert's neighborhood??? anyone???


Results? First of all, ERP is not "too new" for results. It's been around more than a decade. The DOC and lawmakers are very deft at concealing the actual recidivism rate and costs, let alone whether the offenders have embraced sobriety at all upon release, which they do not track. I've been through the program and have published on its flaws. I'm sober today DESPITE this heavy-handed program, not because of it. The program is well intentioned but poorly administered by Corrections. They are in the business of warehousing people (mistreatment) not treatment. Helping people with addictions, if they even have them, is based upon a simple premise: That they honestly WANT to change. It's not successful if the motivation is to get out early, and it is rarely successful when coerced. ERP is not voluntary. You do it or you don't go home early. It is not decided by judges. Judges authorize it, the DOC has a formula based on sentence length and offense, not a suitability evaluation or addiction assessment, to determine who gets in. The program is a scheme to save on incarceration costs, NOT to help people heal or avoid alcohol or other drugs. And certainly not to avoid reoffending. We have a vested interest in addressing addictions within the corrections population as well as in the general public. I'm certain there are members of this community without a felony who are struggling and want but cannot get help, meanwhile the ERP bed date is a golden ticket out of the pokey. The ERP results are vague and deserve closer scrutiny. Do NOT drink the Kool-Aid the DOC is serving up with this story.

Mrs John Hanner
Mrs John Hanner

I agree 100%, I'm an alcoholic sober for 20 years. The rehab scam is one of the biggest in the country today. Millions of dollars are wasted on useless feel good programs that are ineffective.

I know professionals in the rehab industry. Privately, they'll admit that their success rate (sober for 5 years or more) is 3%. Just another scam to take more taxpayer dollars.

If an addict/alcoholic does not want to stop using, nothing can stop him/her. By the same token, if an addict/alcoholic wants to sober up, nothing can stop him/her. Judges who sentence people to attend AA meetings are wasting our time and money, and damaging AA. AA is voluntary and free, as are Secular Organizations for Sobriety ( and Rational Recovery (

Stop babying addicts. It only makes them worse. Stop lying to us about statistics and success rates. Would you spend your money on a program that is only 3% effective? No, but our useless, lying "leaders" give millions of our dollars to these scams.

Kay Nine

Once they get out and go back to the same people, same neighborhood, same routine.... they will use the same drugs and commit the same crimes to get money for drugs.

Perhaps give them lengthy sentences, then offer the program. If they get out and go back to the same stup!dity as before, they have to finish the entire sentence.

Having such a program and not having accurate stats on how many reoffend is a perfect example of how poorly the state runs it.


Encourage my is not a guarantee.
Have you ever working in a prison?
It's one hustle to the next.
There are guys who recognize they've made bad choices and want to better themselves. There are also guys who will say or do anything to get ahead. Attending a program to get out early is one of them.
Look up the numbers if recidivism and how many eligible don't finish the program. I've seen guys drop out of programming because it would interfere with the prison softball schedule. Sympathize with inmates if you want. The numbers don't lie.


Program puts corrections in house of corrections. By the way in the article it states the judge decides eligibility.

A Jelly Doughnut

Encourage them not to reoffend? Keeping them locked up where they are supposed to be does that with a 100% success rate. In the end the costs to future victims and to society to catch and retry them outweighs any alleged savings. Wow they finally figured it out. Inmates locked up without access to drugs and alcohol do very well. Congrats, no one has ever thought of this. No amount of treatment is going to do any good until these people decide on their own to grow up and be responsible.


What's your point, Queen? The idea here is to encourage people not to reoffend. Future victims? What are you smoking?


Do the judges at sentencing decide whether people are eligible for this or does RCI decide?


Of the possible 520K savings, how much does it cost a future victim if they reoffend?
Understandably sexual predators are not allowed in the program at STF, but some are established repeat offenders.

In the end the ones who continually turn to crime will do so regardless of a long or short sentence.

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