Prison Reform Saves Money and Cuts Crime

Wisconsin’s crime rate increased 12 percent from 2009 to 2014, while Minnesota’s rate decreased by 6 percent.  Consider those figures along with the fact that state and local governments in Wisconsin spend nearly twice as much per capita on corrections as those in Minnesota.  In FY 2013, the figures were $259 for each resident of Wisconsin and $163 for each Minnesota resident.

WISDOM, a network of faith-based organizations in Wisconsin, used those figures and other analysis to make a strong case that criminal justice reform saves money and reduces crime. Their representatives spoke before the state’s Legislative Council Study Committee on Reducing Recidivism on October 17.

The bad news: Wisconsin is the only state during the last decade to have moved backwards in terms of reform. Eighteen states have enacted “big and comprehensive reform” and 15 states have enacted “significant reform.”  A “driving motivation of reform is the crippling cost of incarceration.”

The good news: Several common sense steps could be taken quickly that would move the state towards a more humane, effective system and save taxpayer dollars.  Fully fund the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program that has reduced recidivism and costs of incarceration; review the status of 2,800 parole eligible prisoners, many of whom are caught in administrative limbo, and reinstate a successful early release program.

Even better news: The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts have worked with 23 states to promote “justice reinvestment,” intended to reduce corrections spending and reinvest the savings in strategies that reduce recidivism.  Technical assistance is available free of charge if a state is selected for help.

For resources and more information about WISDOM’s Restore our Community project, click here.

UPDATE:  Click here for a letter from Sen. Lena Taylor published in the Milwaukee Courier describing outcomes of the hearing.

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