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Tougher sentencing has prison population edging toward new record

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s prisons are on track for a record number of inmates by 2019 as violent crime edges upward.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says the growing population is fueled in part by tougher sentences.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the state Department of Corrections expects to have 23,233 in mates by June 2019. That would be slightly above the record 23,184 in 2007.

Wisconsin’s prison population had grown for years before it began to decline in 2008. But the population began rising again in 2013.

Running Wisconsin’s prisons is expected to cost about $1.1 billion for each of the next two years. The price tag has caught the attention of Republicans and Democrats alike.

“I want to fix this now,” Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), chairman of the Assembly Corrections Committee, told the Journal Sentinel. “I think the sense of urgency is huge because of the issues we face with overcrowding.”

Schraa is seeking $5 million over two years to establish a pilot program in Winnebago County that would give intensive treatment to repeat drunken drivers for up to 18 months, instead of the five-year prison sentences they would otherwise get. He thinks that would lead to better results at the same time it cuts prison overcrowding.

Rep. Evan Goyke, a Milwaukee Democrat, would like to see broad reform that could mean shorter sentences for people who get treatment, education and training.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, a New Berlin Republican, warned that cost can’t be the only driver of who goes to prison.

“The costs for not putting people in jail is as great if not greater,” he said.

The prison population is rising because of more than just rising violent crime. Admissions are also up because of revocations for probation or extended supervision, the taxpayer alliance found.

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