Cheri Maples calls it 'a little too much of a coincidence.' Last week, the former state Department of Corrections official learned that her ongoing role as a consultant hired to train DOC employees was being discontinued ' just days after the publication of an Isthmus column in which she was quoted making disparaging remarks about the culture within the department.
'Everything was just fine until I said something publicly,' says Maples, now an assistant attorney general with the state Justice Department. She suspects the department is being vindictive. 'My name was given to [others in DOC] as someone who was not to train again.'
Maples, 54, who spent most of her career with the Madison Police Department, resigning at the rank of captain in 2005, has also heard through the grapevine of heightened internal opposition to the DOC's continued participation in an innovative program that lets offenders acquire credit for services provided.
'The best-case scenario,' says Maples, 'is that this is about fear-based decision-making and protecting the governor.' The worst case is that the DOC is retaliating against her for her public comments, even if it means undermining its mission to rehabilitate offenders.
In comments quoted in two separate Isthmus opinion columns in November, Maples said innovation was not encouraged within the DOC, and managers there seemed motivated by fear: 'Everything was designed to protect the governor from any potential bad publicity.'
Rick Raemisch, the DOC's deputy secretary, offers an innocent explanation for the decision to suspend training: 'We're looking at a budget deficit. Training is one of the first things we look at [to cut].' Though unable to provide a precise number for the budget deficit, he says other belt-tightening steps are being taken, including keeping some positions open and reducing out-of-state travel.
Were Maples' public comments a factor?
'You know,' says Raemisch, heading into about a 10-second pause. 'I'm pausing because when you look at making cuts....' He stops himself, then starts again: 'From the [quoted] comments, it would seem that she doesn't care much for the DOC.'
Raemisch then says this had nothing to do with it, that the decision was about saving money. 'If she had stood up and said wonderful things [about the DOC], we would still be delaying [optional training] at least until June.' He adds that, with regard to Maples' comments, 'I simply disagree with them.'
Maples, building on her earlier work at DOC, has given training sessions for corrections workers in three areas: ethics, health and wellness, and the role of race. Her most recent session, on Dec. 1, just before she got the boot, drew what she says are typically rave reviews.
'What an emotional afternoon,' wrote one person on an unsigned evaluation. 'The exercises, though difficult, were very powerful,' wrote another. 'Great discussion ' good eye-opener,' added a third. Of the 34 evaluations, 25 rated her presentation as 'outstanding,' the highest mark. The rest all chose the second highest, 'good.'
'They keep asking me to come back because I get very positive evaluations,' says Maples. She charges $900 per day, maintaining that this is less than the norm.
Maples' served as head of the DOC's Division of Community Corrections for nine months in 2005, leaving in November 2005. She has worked at the Justice Department since March of this year, working on a variety of criminal justice projects.
Among them is Dane County Time Bank, which Maples calls 'the ultimate community-policing, public-safety project.'
The project, similar to Madison Hours, involves the trading of services among individuals, from tutoring to horseback riding. Says Maples, 'Everything you can think of doing or wanting to do is exchanged.' Well, except that.
Maples' involvement is with the criminal justice component, through which offenders on work release or on probation and parole have earned service 'time' they can trade in for services. The program brings inmates into contact with others in the community, potentially creating opportunities for employment. (A separate component, just begun, offers deferred prosecution for juvenile offenders.)
'It holds offenders accountable while creating a public safety net,' says Maples. 'It's everything the DOC says it stands for.'
The time bank is so promising that Maples has been invited to Milwaukee, where there is interest in starting a similar program. She says the DOC has long been wary of involvement. Raemisch, a straight shooter, confirms it.
'I am cautious of it,' he says, explaining his overriding concern for public safety. 'If one disaster occurs, it sets us back 10 years.' He spins one scenario: 'To actually be sending inmates to an 80-year-old woman's home to shovel snow may not be the best idea.'
Maples scoffs at this, noting that program participants are screened and supervised. And while Raemisch says DOC participation in the program is ongoing, despite his concerns, Maples has heard that people within DOC 'have been told to back off from any partnership' with her or this program.
In the wake of these events, Maples is seeking to meet with Susan Goodwin, Gov. Jim Doyle's chief of staff, to discuss her concerns; she's optimistic that such a meeting can take place. Maples thinks institutions like the DOC ought to see criticism as opportunities for discussion, not grounds for revenge.
'It's really wrong to create this kind of fear and shut people up like this,' says Maples. 'I can't believe it's good for state government.'