Increase in Spending on Corrections Comes with Enormous Opportunity Costs

Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 8:30 AM by

Wisconsin Corrections SpendingSpending 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. The share of general fund spending devoted to corrections has tripled in Wisconsin, to 8.1% in 2013 from 2.7% in 1986. If spending on prison costs had remained constant over that period, Wisconsin would have an additional $859 million this year to make investments in strong schools, safe communities, and a solid transportation network.

State policymakers need to take a hard look at Wisconsin’s corrections spending and ask why we are so far out of line with neighboring states and the national average. By bringing soaring prison spending under control, Wisconsin has an opportunity to free up resources to make investments in children and communities that will pay off in the years and decades to come.

Tamarine Cornelius

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