Wisconsin prisons are over capacity and cannot house the additional inmates that incarcerated under a new law toughening penalties for repeat drunk driving, according to state officials. To address the lack of space, the Department of Corrections recently proposed spending $40 million over the next two years to expand contracts with local governments to house state prisoners. The new costs should spur lawmakers to take a hard look at corrections costs and implement strategies proven to reduce prison populations as well as the costs to taxpayers and communities.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a law increasing the severity of the offense of the fourth and subsequent instances of driving while intoxicated. The change means that more people will be sent to prison for repeat instances of drunk driving; the Department of Corrections estimates the new law will increase the number of inmates in the state prison system by 458 inmates at the end of 2017, and by 1,205 inmates at the end of 2018. Read more
Counties in rural northeast Wisconsin send as many people to prison for their size as the urban counties in southeast Wisconsin, according to newly-released figures on prison admissions. High prison admission rates from some rural Wisconsin counties are part of a national pattern in which people from small counties are as likely or more likely to go to prison than people from large counties.
Milwaukee County sends more people to prison for the size of its population than any other Wisconsin county, with 26.4 prison admissions in 2014 per 10,000 residents, according to an analysis in the New York Times. But some rural counties in northeast Wisconsin send almost as many people to prison for their size as Milwaukee County. The five counties with the next highest prison admission rates after Milwaukee County are:
- Forest County, with 26.3 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Marinette County, 25.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Kenosha County, 25.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents;
- Racine County, 24.4 prison admissions per 10,000 residents; and
- Langlade County, 22.2 prison admissions per 10,000 residents.
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