Posted at 2 p.m. on January 9, 2020
The Brillion News
MADISON — State Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, on January 9 introduced “The Wisconsin Corrections Reform & Reinvestment Initiative.”
The reforms address non-criminal revocations; Wisconsin’s earned release system; and changes to community supervision.
Criminal justice reform has become a national, bi-partisan issue, with both federal and state-led initiatives in approximately 45 states to address rising prison populations, costs, and to avoid the massive costs of constructing new prison facilities, while also maintaining public safety.
Wisconsin faces a growing prison population and needing to build a new prison unless reforms are made. Goyke and Taylor said they are making a case for reform.
In the 2019-2021 budget, the Legislature approved a five percent increase in the Department of Corrections budget, with an annual budget now above $1.3 billion. Included in the budget was an estimate that the prison population will grow roughly 600 additional inmates by 2021, to over 24,300 inmates, an all-time high in Wisconsin.
“Today I am introducing a package of bills to reform our justice system, built from the experiences of other states, to safely reduce the prison population and reinvest the savings to reduce crime,” Goyke said. “Each bill follows the same framework: Reform-Report-Reinvest. Each bill includes statutory reforms to safely reduce the prison population, increased reporting and data collection, and the reinvestment of savings into proven recidivism reducing programming.”
Taylor said the plan is to cut criminal justice costs by reforming the criminal justice system to become more effective and efficient.
“Building a new prison may cost more than $300 million with an ongoing annual cost of anywhere from $20 million to $40 million depending on the capacity and level of security,” . Taylo said. “On top of the mounting fiscal costs are the broader costs to our community. Wisconsin’s criminal justice system has among America’s worst disparities for people of color. This is a moral, civil rights issue that must be addressed. African American men in Wisconsin are several times more likely to be incarcerated for non-violent offenses than their white neighbors."
She said that African Americans make up roughly 6.6 percent of the state’s population, yet over 42 percent of Wisconsin’s prison population. Similar disparities are found in the incarceration rates of Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and Native American populations of Wisconsin.
The pieces of legislation are currently circulating for co-sponsorship.