Green Bay is but a symptom of the larger disease in the Wisconsin Corrections System: short-sighted thinking. A new prison may alleviate the overcrowding temporarily across prisons, but if nothing is done to address the reasons why so many Wisconsinites are imprisoned, the problem will only continue. Across the country, some very surprising states are making sweeping corrections reforms. Under Republican Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey cut the number of crimeless revocations by about half and as a result closed multiple facilities. With a combination of ideas in Wisconsin, instead of building a new prison to replace our crumblings ones, we could close them done lock, stock, and barrel. From Promoting Long Term Thinking in Wisconsin Corrections.
In New Jersey, an end to crimeless revocations – the re-incarceration of people on supervision without a new crime – led to a dramatic reduction in prison populations. Reported on NJ.com by Ted Sherman, the drop in prison population is largely attributed to “the creation of the state’s drug courts that focus on diverting people from prison, as well as changes in the parole system that make it less likely someone will be put back behind bars for minor technical violations of their parole.” Unknown to many, except for incarcerated people sentenced before 1999, Wisconsin does not have a parole system. When a person leaves a correctional facility, they move into either parole or extended supervision—effectively the same rules and procedures of parole but changed to differentiate between those using the old law and those under Truth in Sentencing, which was enacted in 2000 and harshened in 2003. If sentenced before 1999, an incarcerated person still sits in on a parole hearing, and it is up to the discretion of the board and ultimately the Parole Commissioner to release the inmate to parole.
Truth in Sentencing takes away the need for true parole as the convicted person has a set date in which they must leave the correctional facility without meeting with a parole board. However, that person is generally put on supervision and commonly must follow rules like staying in a specific, geographical location, meeting regularly with their supervision agent, keeping up with restitution payments, as well as other more specific rules that vary between individuals. About 4,500 individuals are currently incarcerated for crimeless revocations—violations of supervision rules—out of a general population of 23,709 (DOC Weekly Population Reports).
The average time spent in incarceration after a crimeless revocation is 18 months, and if there are 4,500 inmates costing taxpayers on average 35,000 dollars per year (cited by Lieutenant Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in 2015) that leads to an annual cost of $236,250,000. It was recently pointed out to me that we would not be able to eliminate crimeless revocations entirely, and there are some violations that should be responded with incarceration, including stalking and a sex offender reaching out to a youth victim. I was happy to be steered right. We can overestimate for safety that perhaps 1,000 of the 3,000 each year have strong enough or multiple violations that would result in reasonable incarceration. Because of this, we can adjust to an annual cost of $75,000,000 that could be added to our state budget.
In the next post, I’ll discuss other ways to save money in the Correctional system that could lead to a government department that is economical while still providing the best services for its employees and the people it is trying to rehabilitate.