By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s finance committee is set to decide this week how to handle the state’s growing number of women prisoners after forecasts show the population likely will grow faster than Gov. Scott Walker anticipated in his budget proposal.
The women’s population dropped from 2008 to 2012, falling from a daily average of 1,339 to 1,170. The decline pushed the state Department of Corrections to convert a women’s prison in Waupun to a men’s facility in 2011.
But the female inmate population has crept back up to a daily average of 1,317 inmates this past year, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted in a report released late Thursday.
Prison populations fluctuate, but the fiscal bureau report did not mention any potential causes. A DOC spokeswoman had no immediate comment when asked if any trends were driving the increase.
Walker’s administration estimated as it was drafting his 2015-17 budget that the population would stand at 1,417 inmates in fiscal year 2016-17. Those estimates were based on population data through July 14.
Based on those figures, the two-year budget calls for spending a little more than $1 million to reopen and staff a wing at the women’s prison in Taycheedah that closed in 2002. The wing would house 60 inmates.
Even with the wing open, however, the state would still have to find room for 20 more inmates in 2015-16 and 79 more inmates in 2016-17, according to the fiscal bureau. The budget offers no solutions. Corrections officials say they’ll manage the overflow.
More recent estimates show the population will stand at 1,442 inmates by 2016-17, the report noted. Even with the new space at Taycheedah, Wisconsin would have to house an additional 43 inmates in the first year of the budget and 104 inmates in the second, according to the fiscal bureau.
Corrections officials have said if the population begins to approach the new projections, they would house the overflow inmates in an empty girls juvenile prison in Union Grove. That move would cost $2.7 million and require hiring about 20 additional staffers, the fiscal bureau noted in its report.
Corrections officials also told the bureau that it would first look to reallocate money within the agency before looking for additional dollars.
The GOP-controlled finance committee is working to revise Walker’s budget before forwarding it on to the full Assembly and Senate for votes later this spring or early summer. The panel is scheduled to address the prisons budget Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, one of the committee’s co-chairs, had no immediate comment. A spokesman for the other co-chair, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, didn’t immediately return an email message.
The fiscal bureau noted, too, that Walker’s growth estimates for the male population are outdated as well and the population likely will grow faster than anticipated. New forecasts now show the men’s prisons will exceed capacity by 235 inmates in the first year of the budget and by 568 inmates in the second.
The budget provides funding to contract for 71 beds for male inmates in jails, federal facilities and temporary lockups in 2015-16 and for nearly 200 beds in 2016-17. According to the fiscal bureau, DOC would have to contract for 164 more beds in the first year and 370 more beds in the second to accommodate the updated growth projections.
The fiscal bureau report notes DOC plans to use 150 beds meant for people held on probation and parole violations at the Sturtevant Transitional Facility for male inmates each year. The agency would still need to spend $4.6 million on contract beds for about 230 overflow inmates over the life of the budget, however.