David Clarke, Milwaukee County’s long serving and outspoken sheriff, has resigned. For real this time.
Ever since he became sheriff in 2002, Clarke has presented himself as a tough on crime, no-nonsense law enforcement official. However, Clarke’s questionable jail administration decisions have led to public controversies in recent years. An inmate suffering from bipolar disorder died from dehydration after being deprived water in effort to “correct” his behavior. A female inmate gave birth without medical assistance and the child ultimately died shortly after despite her cries for help. As correctional institutions were moving away from using Nutraloaf as a form of culinary punishment, Milwaukee County Jail embraced its use. Much of this could be defended politically if the results were a safer community. Yet, Milwaukee’s crime rate has followed that of the rest of the country: a drop in the general crime rate with an increase in violent crime.
But there is hope. Richard Schmidt took over as acting sheriff until the Governor appoints a replacement. Almost immediately, Schmidt made a couple of important decisions. First, he froze spending so he could evaluate how the sheriff’s office could sort out the office’s financial shortfalls. Second, Schmidt asked for help from the National Institute of Corrections to evaluate the current situation in the Milwaukee County Jail.
By stopping spending and taking the time to evaluate the current financial situation, Schmidt is showing respect for the tremendous trust placed in public officials to manage their tax dollars appropriately. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office is expected to run a deficit of $5 million this year. For a county with a little less than one million citizens, the deficit reflects more than a rounding error. Taking steps to diagnose the problem and presumably take action to correct indicates Schmidt has a healthy understanding of his role as a guardian of taxpayer money.
Likewise, bringing in experts, such as the National Institute of Corrections, shows positive progress towards wanting to make Milwaukee County’s corrections programs work. Asking for assistance indicates Schmidt is interested in implementing reforms where punishment is not the primary focus of the Milwaukee County Corrections.
Though no real change has taken place as of yet in Milwaukee County, the signs are very good.