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Corrections chief promotes governor's KidsFirst initiative

Matthew Frank, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, was on the phone last Thursday promoting Gov. Jim Doyle's KidsFirst initiative.

In a call to the Hudson Star-Observer, Frank vouched for the good that proposals related to children of prison inmates would do.

"From a corrections standpoint, as well as looking at a strategy for controlling our costs and reducing our prison population, there's no better investment that we can make than focusing on our children and having them grow up safe and healthy and successful," he said.

One of the proposals of the KidsFirst initiative is to provide mentoring and support to the children of prison inmates in an attempt to keep them from following their parents to prison.

Doyle has proposed strengthening partnerships between government agencies and community- and faith-based organizations in order to reach the at-risk children.

Frank listed Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girl Scouts, and Boys and Girls Clubs as some of the organizations that might have a role in the program.

The average cost of housing an inmate is $26,000, Frank said, and Wisconsin has 22,000 of them (20,700 male and 1,300 female). The state's prison population has more than tripled since 1990, when there were 6,500 inmates.

The governor also has proposed improving parenting classes within the prisons, especially for the female inmates.

Frank noted that most inmates will eventually return to the community, and many of them will be reunited with their children.

"We really want to focus on breaking the cycle of incarceration - where you have a generation that grows up with a parent that's incarcerated, and then you have the next generation also ending up incarcerated," he said.

The effort to break the cycle of incarceration is one of many priorities announced as part of the KidsFirst initiative.

The governor has said he'll include parts of the initiative in his next budget proposal as funds are available.

"How much of this we will be able to do immediately and how much will have to be phased in will depend, in part, on the state of the economic recovery," Frank said.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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