Wisconsin Spending More on Corrections, Less on Schools and Universities

Thursday, November 19, 2015 at 10:19 AM by

State spending on corrections has climbed in recent years in Wisconsin, as spending on schools and the University of Wisconsin System has plummeted, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Budget Project. The result is that the state has fewer resources to invest in our schools, communities, and health care.

State spending on corrections has increased 7% since the 2003-05 budget period, after amounts are adjusted for inflation. That stands in stark contrast to state spending on K-12 schools, which dropped by 14% over that time. State spending on the University of Wisconsin dropped by 21% over that period.


Wisconsin now spends more tax dollars on locking people up and other corrections activities than it does educating our next generation of workers at the University of Wisconsin. Back in the 2003-05 budget, Wisconsin spent about 15% less on corrections than it did on the UW System. In the current budget that has flipped, with the state spending about 15% more on corrections than on the University of Wisconsin. The cost of incarcerating an inmate in a Wisconsin medium security prison for a year is nearly $30,000, about $5,000 more than the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other expenses for an in-state student attending the University of Wisconsin.

High corrections costs have drawn the attention nationally of advocates across the political spectrum. A new coalition that includes unlikely allies such as the Koch Brothers, the Center for American Progress, and the ACLU, is working towards broad scale justice reform, with the goal of reducing prison populations and the corresponding corrections costs. That movement hasn’t gained much political traction in Wisconsin yet, and state lawmakers have yet to undo policies that caused Wisconsin’s prison population to climb dramatically. But as other states work to reduce their prison populations and corrections costs, perhaps Wisconsin lawmakers will become more open to cost-effective alternatives to Wisconsin’s expensive corrections system.

Fortunately, there are concrete steps Wisconsin can take to bring down the high monetary and community cost of its corrections policies. Wisconsin should work to keep offenders who commit minor crimes out of jail, reduce the number of prison admissions that do not involve new convictions, and remove barriers that keep former offenders from getting jobs.

Read the report: Prison Price Tag: The High Cost of Wisconsin’s Corrections Policies.

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