During their recent session, Wisconsin lawmakers had a mixed record on holding down corrections costs, passing bills that will increase the number of people behind bars, as well as reducing obstacles that prevent people from fully contributing to their communities after leaving prison or jail.
The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families has released a new summary that describes the changes lawmakers made to Wisconsin’s criminal justice system during the legislative session that ended earlier this month, and also includes descriptions of high-profile proposals that did not pass.
The high cost of Wisconsin’s corrections system means that the time is ripe for lawmakers to make changes in policies that govern who is incarcerated, for how long, and what happens to people after they get out from behind bars. Wisconsin state and local governments spent $1.5 billion on corrections in 2013. That’s over than a tenth more — 12% — on corrections per state resident than the national average. Read more
Three proposals currently under consideration by state lawmakers have the potential to reduce the amount of money the state spends on corrections, keep people who commit minor crimes out from behind bars, and make it easier for people leaving prison or jail to get a job.
These developments to reduce the costs – financial and otherwise – of the state’s correction system are long overdue. For years, Wisconsin residents have been paying a high cost for the state’s over-reliance on prisons and jails. Part of the cost comes out of the pockets of taxpayers — nationally, only 11 states spend more per state resident than Wisconsin on corrections – and part of the cost is paid by communities, especially communities of color. Wisconsin locks up a larger share of African-American men than any other state, making it difficult for those individuals to get jobs after they are released, support their families, and make contributions to their communities. Read more
You can read the full report here: Prison Price Tag: The High Cost of Wisconsin’s Corrections Policies.
Resources for Corrections Would Outstrip State Support for University System, under Governor’s Proposal
Wisconsin would spend significantly more on prisons and corrections than on helping students pursue their educations at the University of Wisconsin System, if Governor Walker’s budget is passed without changes.
Governor Walker has called on lawmakers to dramatically reduce the amount of support the state provides for the University System. About 180,000 students attend the University of Wisconsin System, at 13 four-year universities and an equal number of two-year institutions. Each year, the UW system awards about 36,000 degrees. Those degrees help graduating students become part of the well-educated workforce Wisconsin needs to compete in the global economy. Read more
Extreme Racial Disparities in Wisconsin’s Corrections System Have Worsened since King’s Death
As we contemplate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the unfinished business that needs to be tackled to achieve racial and ethnic equality, one of the issues that jump out at me is the huge growth in prison populations – particularly among African American males. That was a topic at many MLK observations across the nation today, but nowhere is it a bigger problem than in Wisconsin.
A report by the UWM Employment and Training Institute issued in 2013 pointed out the following data, most of which is derived from the 2010 Census:
- Wisconsin had a higher rate than any other state of working age African American men who were behind bars in state prisons and local jails; in fact, no other state was even close to the Wisconsin rate. (See the graph on page 8 of their report.)
- The WI incarceration rate of working age black males, 12.8%, is nearly double the national average of 6.7% of working age African American men, and 10 times the rate for white males in our state.
Spending on corrections has increased dramatically in Wisconsin in recent decades, reducing the resources available for quality schools, safe communities, and health care.
Wisconsin state spending on corrections rose by 308% between 1986 and 2013, when dollar amounts are adjusted for inflation. Only eight states had larger increases in prison costs, measured as a percentage increase. Nationally, state corrections spending averaged an increase of 141% over this period, less than half of Wisconsin’s increase. Figures are from a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Wisconsin’s increase in spending on corrections has outpaced the increase in all our neighboring states. Corrections spending in Wisconsin increased twice as fast as spending in Minnesota since the mid-1980s, and nearly five times as fast as in Illinois.
This significant increase in corrections spending comes with very large opportunity costs. As corrections spending has increased, it takes up an increasingly large share of the state’s public resources. Read more
$900,000 per Month Increase in DOC Costs Is One of Several Unintended Effects
Rather than accepting enhanced federal Medicaid funds, the Governor proposes to pay for a 3-month delay in BadgerCare eligibility reductions by also delaying positive aspects of the budget bill, including the expansion of coverage for adults who don’t have dependent children. Obviously, the most disappointing aspect of financing the bill in that way is that the Governor is breaking his promise not to create a coverage gap for low-income childless adults. Another smaller and much less obvious problem is that the Special Session bill being considered by the Joint Finance Committee on December 2nd creates a $2.8 million GPR hole in the Department of Corrections budget.
The expansion of coverage to include adults without dependent children is projected to save the DOC about $900,000 per month by picking up a significant portion of the cost of hospitalizing inmates. Read more
Federal officials announced this week that they will seek to curtail the use of mandatory minimum sentencing for certain offenses. Wisconsin, which incarcerates a greater share of its population than many of its neighboring states, could reduce corrections costs by following the federal move to reduce sentences.
U.S. Attorney General Holder announced several new policies aimed at curbing soaring prison costs at the federal level, and correcting unfairness in the justice system. One of the most significant changes will be to scale back the use of federal laws that impose strict mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses. Holder said that widespread incarceration is “ineffective and unsustainable” and “imposes a significant economic burden.”
The changes in federal policy would not affect sentencing at the state level, which is where most incarceration takes place. But by moving away from mandatory minimum sentences, the federal government may be setting an example for states to follow. Read more
Resolution (SJR 5) Would Finally Make Legislative Rule on Fiscal Estimates Consistent with Statute
For far too long, legislators have been making decisions about new criminal penalties without paying much attention to cost. A Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 5),which would address that longstanding problem, is scheduled for a committee vote this Tuesday, March 26.
Under the legislature’s current rules, any bill “increasing or decreasing existing appropriations or state or general local government fiscal liability or revenues shall carry a fiscal estimate,” but that rule (Joint Rule 41) contains an exception for bills changing criminal penalties. SJR 5, introduced by Senator Taylor, would eliminate that exemption. (The resolution is in the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works and Telecommunications, and you can Senator’s press release describing it here.)
One of the very surprising and disappointing things about that fiscal estimate exemption in the legislature’s rules is that it conflicts with the statute! Read more