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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

They just don’t get it. While most places around the country are looking at ways to decrease their prison population, my Republican colleagues are busy coming up ways to further add to an overburdened and costly corrections system. Not content with being “tough on crime”, they announced a package of bills to be “tougher on crime”. These people are tone deaf.

Clearly, they don’t hear all the chatter about the need for justice reform, alternatives to incarceration, and corrections budgets that are dwarfing other critically needed state agencies. Truth-in-sentencing, which former Gov. Scott Walker thought was his crowing accomplishment, well aside from union-busting, has been a financial and moral boondoggle, for the state. Operating under two corrections systems, “old law” and “new law”, truth-in-sentencing seemingly became the defacto governing law for every incarcerated person under Walker’s reign. The sad reality is that, whether we are talking incarceration, probation, monitoring, or some form of community corrections, nearly 70,000 residents are in the state’s correction’s system. And the State GOP thinks we should add to those numbers.

Nonpartisan research organization Wisconsin Policy Forum’s 2016 research found that “more inmates are getting locked up again after violating terms of their parole or extended supervision”. They further stated that “36.5 percent of all admissions in 2017 were inmates whose parole or supervision had been revoked, compared with 21.9 percent in 1990. Inmates entering prison with a new sentence dropped from 46.6 percent to 29.9 percent over that same 27-year period”. Note to GOP, we’re already tough on crime.

Instead of creating programming, opportunities, and supports to reduce recidivism, they trot out bills that would impose a 6-month mandatory sentence for shoplifting. Even scarier, they want to expand the list of crimes that a youth could get time for to a any act that would be a felony if committed by an adult.

There were other bills included, but I am just to tired of going down this road with them. Their package is outdated, ill-thought and guaranteed to do more harm than good. Good jobs, fair wages, quality education, and stable communities are a great deterrent to crime. Democrats aren’t the only ones who have figured this out.

Even the infamously conservative Koch family, as switched their approach to corrections and have been advocating for criminal justice reform. They have used their money to support programs like “Safe Streets and Second Chances”, as well as addressing the need for alternatives to incarceration. They figured out that we need to reduce recidivism. Yet, some of the state’s legislative republicans insist on dragging us further into a criminal justice hole.

The time and energy spent trying to figure out how to lock up even more residents, could certainly be better spent. As I lament this misguided series of bills, I’d like to remind my colleagues that our resources are finite. Taxpayers are going to be asked to foot these additional costs. We should do a better job of giving them a better return on their investment. If we don’t change the conditions that breed criminal behavior, we don’t change the outcomes.

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