The conservative approach to criminal justice:
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Smart Electronic Monitoring Leads to Real Savings

| August 21, 2017

When Sheriff Dave Mahoney of Dane County was first elected in 2006, he noticed a problem.  The county was paying to house inmates in other counties because of the lack of capacity in the local jail.  And they were not paying to house just a few inmates.  They were paying, on average, for about 300 inmates a day to be incarcerated elsewhere.  The Dane County Jail has capacity for slightly more than a 1,000 people.  Each inmate placed outside of Dane County was costing taxpayers $52 a day.  That’s more than $15,000 each day and more than $5.6 million each year.

The sheriff believed the huge expense placed on taxpayers by moving county inmates was a function of management.  As sheriff, he has a constitutional right to manage his county’s jail and the people sentenced to it. Recognizing that, Sheriff Mahoney instituted an electronic monitoring program.

One of the keys of success to the program was how it was developed.  To decide who is eligible for the program, the sheriff consulted with victim rights groups like the Domestic Violence Coalition and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Getting input from victim rights groups helped to guarantee the lowest risk inmates were targeted in a way that did not depreciate the seriousness of the crime.

During the entirety of the program, nearly 3,000 inmates have been placed on electronic monitoring.  The sheriff notes only two inmates have ever removed their bracelets and were very quickly re-apprehended.  After all, with twenty-four hour a day monitoring and sensors that can tell law enforcement if the bracelet has been cut, the sheriff’s department has an excellent idea of the inmates location at all times.

The result is a county jail, once struggling to find room for 30% more inmates than it was designed for, now generally houses several hundred inmates less than capacity.  Locally designed programs, like the Dane County electronic monitoring program, show how common sense alternatives to blanket incarceration can lead to real savings at no expense to public safety.


THOMAS LYONS entered the legal field after receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Marquette University. Working in offices in Kewaunee and Sheboygan Counties, Tom’s practice focused primarily on criminal defense, juvenile, and mental health law. Switching to the world of policy, Tom started as a legislative aide to a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, followed by a State Senator, and for a brief time Governor Scott Walker before joining Right on Crime on 2017.