Dust off your CD collection and your Palm Pilot, because some Wisconsin state legislators are determined to take the state’s criminal justice system back to the 1990s.

Across the country, Republicans and Democrats – even President Donald Trump – are coming together to pass sensible reforms that will strengthen our communities, improve public safety, and address our country’s mass incarceration crisis. At the federal level, bipartisan sentencing reforms have granted thousands of incarcerated people a second chance.

But here in Wisconsin, some state legislators are trying to take us backward. At a press conference announcing a so-called “tougher on crime” package, legislators trotted out the same tired rhetoric to justify doubling down on harmful policies that have pushed our corrections system to the breaking point and failed to make anyone safer.

These legislators falsely claim these policies are needed to reduce crime and improve public safety. But there’s one glaring problem with their argument: we’ve tried the “tough on crime” approach before – and it failed miserably. 

Mass incarceration has devastated Black and brown communities and blown a billion-dollar hole in our state budget without making anyone safer. 

Instead of improving public safety, these measures would weaken it by destabilizing families, weakening communities, and diverting resources away from priorities like mental health and addiction treatment. 

The fact that some legislators are taking such a misguided approach is even more disappointing given that there are meaningful reform proposals on the table that would move Wisconsin in the right direction. “The Wisconsin Corrections Reform & Reinvestment Initiative” introduced by Rep. Evan Goyke and Sen. Lena Taylor, while modest in scope and deficient in some areas, represents a meaningful effort to repair Wisconsin’s criminal legal system. 

The Wisconsin Legislature should be working to support communities and families, not needlessly putting more people behind bars.

While we’ll cherish those reruns of In Living Color forever, the failed “tough on crime” approach is one 1990s innovation that we should bury for good.