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.

How are You Going to Pay for It?

Push for better mental health services long enough and you will hear that question.

This blog will help explain ways in which the money we have for mental health services could bring about greater returns and explore how to increase those resources.  I will focus on the impact on Dane County residents of decisions made at all levels of government and will include reports of on-the-ground efforts by local advocates to help bring about reform in mental health services.

I know the mental health system at personal and professional levels.  My sister was first hospitalized with a diagnosis of schizophrenia when she was 14.  She is 74, so I have first-hand knowledge of improvements in care and the continuing failures of the system.  I was a reporter for Psychiatric News, the bi-weekly publication of the American Psychiatric Association, specializing in health care economics and community psychiatry. Katie L Mulligan

NOTE:   A disproportionate number of people in the criminal justice system have a mental illness.   People advocating for family members and others with a mental illness are seeing that intersection and urging criminal justice reform.  It is also clear that taxpayer dollars are being wasted because of the current jail and prison systems.  I will be adding news about criminal justice reform to this blog.