Running for Governor is Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker’s #1 priority so the long term health and safety of our community barely makes it onto his radar. As is the case this year as every other year of his budgeting, Walker cut funding that he knew the County Board would put back in. That way, Walker gets to claim that he’s cutting or holding the line on taxes, but the big bad County Board refused to see the “wisdom” of his work “protecting” the taxpayers.
Once again, Walker is proposing to cut funding for the Milwaukee County House of Corrections (HOC) Farm and Fish Hatchery. Why, you would ask, is the House of Corrections doing these responsibilities in the first place. The answers are multiple.
Cost Effective Services: Inmates have little to do but wait for their sentences to be served. There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to keep inmates busy. They can cook in the kitchen, do laundry and occasionally a small crew can pick up litter on the sides of the highway. Running a fish hatchery and farm at the house was done on the cheap since inmates are paid next to nothing for their work.
Security: Inmates have little to do while serving their sentence. House of corrections inmates are not the normal bad boy that you see on the prison shows. You won’t find a whole bunch of felons at the House. People sentenced to the House have typically done non-violent crimes like driving without a license or drunk driving. Still, put a large amount of people in a room for months after months and you will have conflict if you don’t have something to keep them busy. Don’t think so? Watch the TV reality show Big Brother and you’ll get an understanding of what I mean.
Job Training: Inmates who are lucky enough to be chosen for work at the fish hatchery or the farm gain valuable work experience as well as an understanding of the benefits of a work ethic. After working at a fish hatchery they are qualified to move their skills to the private sector. The same thing goes for farm work.
Food for Inmates: Many people complain about how they have to pay high taxes. By running a farm at the HOC, inmates are able to grow food to feed the inmate population at the HOC, at the County Jail, and for some of the mental health facilities that the county runs.
Food for the Hungry: Food that is grown by inmates that isn’t already used in County facilities is given to Hunger Task Force, a non-profit food bank which distributes food to multiple food pantries throughout the metro area.
Stocking fish for Ponds in County Parks: Without the fish hatchery Milwaukee County won’t be restocking the fish that are in their ponds at the county parks. Urban fishing is a great recreational opportunity for seniors and for families. By having inmates to the labor to raise the fish, the county’s only cost is the infrastructure for the tanks and transportation. Without the hatchery, fishing at County Parks will be ridiculously poor.
Plants and Trees for the Domes: The Milwaukee County Domes at Mitchell Park are a unique sightseeing destination as well as a Milwaukee Landmark. Few people realize that plants and trees at the domes sometimes get their start at the HOC.
Cutting off funding for the HOC farm and fish hatchery is a bit like a farmer selling off their seed corn. Services will be dramatically and negatively impacted. This is one of those budget cuts that Walker has attempted in the past and he knows that the County Board will put funding back in. The public should prepare itself for yet another round of Board bashing by Walker. Once again he will sell himself as the white knight fighting for the taxpayers while bashing the board as a bunch of oafish and selfish politicians looking out for their own self interest.
The truth is that it’s Walker, not the board, who is looking out for himself and his own craven lust for greater political power.