Early Release Programs in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is known as a “Truth in Sentencing” state.  This means that someone sentenced to the Wisconsin State Prison System must serve a bifurcated sentence – a period of initial confinement and a period of extended supervision.  The “truth” in the sentence comes from the fact that the offender knows exactly how much time he will serve up front and how much time is available for re-incarceration if his extended supervision is revoked.  There are two early release programs available in Wisconsin that can reduce the period of initial confinement for certain individuals:  The Challenge Incarceration Program (aka “boot camp) and the Substance Abuse Program (aka “earned release”).

Challenge Incarceration Program

The Challenge Incarceration Program has a few statutory requirements for eligibility.

  • Inmate must be under the age of 40
  • Inmate must have an identified substance abuse treatment need
  • Inmate must not have any physical limitations
  • Inmate must not be convicted of any crimes in Chapter 940 or crimes involving physical or sexual assault to a child
  • Inmate must be deemed eligible by the sentencing judge.

The most important element is the last one and must be covered by the attorney at the sentencing hearing.  If the sentencing judge does not make an affirmative ruling finding the defendant eligible, then the Department of Corrections will not allow him in the program.  This early release program is designed to be completed in 6 months, and upon completion, the remaining time of the inmate’s period of initial confinement will be converted to extended supervision and the inmate will be released from prison.

Substance Abuse Program

Like its counterpart, the Substance Abuse Program also has a few statutory requirements for eligibility.

  • Inmate must not be convicted of any crimes in Chapter 940 or crimes involving physical or sexual assault to a child
  • Inmate must have an identified substance abuse treatment need
  • Inmate must be deemed eligible by the sentencing judge.

One significant difference from the Challenge Incarceration Program is that there’s no age limit to participation.  As long as there’s an identified substance abuse treatment need and the sentencing judge finds the defendant eligible, the inmate may be allowed to participate in the early release program.  This program is designed to be completed in 6 months, and upon completion, the remaining incarceration time will be converted to extended supervision and the inmate will be released.

So I’m Statutorily Eligible.  Why Was I Denied?

A sentencing court can determine that the defendant is ineligible for these early release programs even if the inmate would otherwise meet all of the other requirements.  Wisconsin case law requires the sentencing judge to state his reasons for the sentence on the record and explain the sentence.  If the judge fails to state the relevant factors that influenced his decision, relies on immaterial factors, or gives too much weight to one factor, then the court has misused its discretion.  Further, even if an inmate is statutorily eligible, the department of corrections has the ability to prevent an inmate from participation based on its inmate classification system.

It is critically important for your attorney to request these early release programs at your sentencing hearing and explain to the court why you would benefit from participation.  If the sentencing court has determined that you or someone you know is ineligible for participation in an early release program, that determination can be challenged through a postconviction motion or a request for sentence modification.  However, there are strict time limits for filing motions after sentencing.  Don’t wait for the time limits to expire.  Contact Attorney Benjamin Van Severen or Attorney Matthew Meyer immediately.