Wisconsin prisons overcrowded, spendy

Story by The Spectator Staff

To balance out Wisconsin’s excessively large corrections budget, the state could take a lesson from its Minnesota neighbors.

Wisconsin’s corrections budget reached $1.08 billion in 2008, compared to less than half of that in Minnesota at $460 million, according to a study published in the Leader-Telegram. The budget is much lower for good – and responsible – reasons: Minnesota relies more heavily on treatment and community supervision in re-establishing convicts into society.

Minnesota also has less than half the number of prisoners than Wisconsin. Some opponents of similar programs in Wisconsin have described it as a “dangerous social experiment,” the L-T reported.

But there aren’t mass riots in Minnesota as a result of the increased community supervision.

Imprisoning people is expensive, and given the state’s fiscal condition, it’s responsible for the state to seek alternative measures for corrections.

The safety issues can’t be totally ignored, however. It would be reckless to sacrifice safety for a more balanced budget. But it would be surprising if dangerous and violent criminals were released prematurely to community supervision programs. The state needs to be careful when dealing with releasing criminals, but Wisconsin doesn’t need this many people in jail.

The Leader-Telegram report emphasized the financial savings that new corrections programs could reap, but that might result in a difficult sell to citizens of Wisconsin. People are most concerned about their immediate safety, not the state’s pocketbook.

A better way to market the programs to citizens would be to emphasize the positive effects that treatment and rehabilitation programs have on convicts, that it could be an effective method of dealing with criminals. Jail is still meant to be a punishment, but creative corrections spending can benefit everyone, both criminals and citizens.