We cannot continue to double down on harmful policies that have pushed our corrections system to the breaking point and failed to make anyone safer. These bills are not needed to reduce crime or improve public safety. Instead, these measures would create additional problems by destabilizing families, weakening communities, and diverting resources away from priorities like mental health and addiction treatment. Those are the needs we must meet – rather than spending even more of this state’s limited budget to build more prisons and lock up more Wisconsin residents. As a reminder, we have about 23,000 people in state prisons, over 12,500 in county jails and about 68,000 people on probation, parole and extended supervision.
AB 805: Costly, Cruel, and Excessive
What it does: AB 805 would require the DOC to recommend revocation of probation or community supervision for just being charged with - not necessarily convicted of - a crime, which means an individual may be sent back to prison with only a finding of “probable cause,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Under current law, the Department of Corrections (DOC) makes discretionary decisions regarding revocation of community supervision. The bill is unnecessary and excessive, since making such recommendations is already an option for agents if they think the charge merits revocation.
Further, revocations already make up the largest source of new prison admissions, with more than 3,000 revocations per year during the past several years. Adoption of this bill will make the problem worse. We are also concerned because the revocation process is not fair and transparent, and takes place in private. AB 805 would also burden local taxpayers with increased jail costs, because the people held under it will be housed at local county jails at local expense, even if the elected county sheriff or prosecutor does not believe it is necessary for the person to remain in custody.
What it costs: According to the Department of Corrections’ fiscal analysis of the bill, AB805 would result in 4,672 additional people being incarcerated in state prisons at a cost of more than $156 million annually, resulting in the need to construct two new state prisons. AB 805 would also burden local taxpayers with increased jail costs, because the people held under it will be housed at local county jails at local expense.
AB 806: More Children in Cages, Not Communities
What it does: AB 806 broadens the criteria for the Serious Juvenile Offender program – the kind of program most states have eliminated. AB 806 would result in sending more children to the troubled, failing and expensive Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities which the legislature has already voted to close – or to new, costly, unnecessary prisons. We know that incarcerating more children will not help the youth nor will it make our communities safer. Instead, widespread research and the practice of most states shows that youth outcomes improve and community safety increases when they are provided services close to their home communities and in the most family-like settings possible.
What it costs: While DOC was not able to estimate the total fiscal impact of the bill, it costs nearly $200,000 a year to incarcerate a child in a juvenile correctional facility.
AB 808: Removing Local Control & Decisionmaking from Prosecutors
What it does: AB 808 increase sentences and make it more difficult to reduce charges in designated cases – which will only add to the prison overcrowding problem.
What it costs: Fiscal notes are indeterminate for the bill, but lengthening sentences will result in increasing the number of people incarcerated in Wisconsin.
AB 809: Limiting Opportunities for Rehabilitative Programs
What it does: AB 809 prohibits early release on parole or probation for people with a broader range of felonies – even if those people have completed programming or have extraordinary health conditions. It is not sensible to keep people locked up simply because their original conviction was one of these felonies. Older people pose fewer disciplinary problems during their incarceration and reoffend at lower rates upon release. The significant medical needs of elderly individuals make them an extraordinarily costly group to house, and prisons and jails are simply not equipped to handle the complexities involved in caring for aging adults.
Wisconsin must do better by following in the footsteps of other states – including states like Texas and Michigan– by reducing corrections populations and costs. We should do so by expanding approaches that have proven track records for keeping people out of prison, reducing the number of prison admissions that don’t involve new convictions, and reducing recidivism by removing barriers to employment. We should also invest in local, community-based solutions and treatment. We should not be finding ways to increase the prison population, as these bills will do.
What it costs: According to the DOC’s fiscal analysis, the cost is indeterminate for the bill, but as of June 2019, 13,912 people were eligible for the current program. Under this bill, 3,800 people would no longer be eligible for programming. By prohibiting early release for a broader range of people, this legislation will serve to exacerbate mass incarceration and cause more people to languish behind bars without appropriate treatment and programming.
AB 853: Mandatory Minimums and Incarcerating Youth
What it does? AB 853 increases penalties for a range of vehicle-related offenses and imposes harsh mandatory minimum sentences against children who commit them. The legislation requires that a person under the age of 18 found to have taken part in the theft of a vehicle, or merely for just knowingly riding in one, must serve at least 30 days in juvenile detention.
Incarceration is a deeply traumatic experience for people of all ages, but especially for youth. States across the country have made significant changes to their juvenile justice systems, dramatically reducing levels of imprisonment while shifting toward a rehabilitation-centered model. AB 853 would make Wisconsin even more of an outlier, further criminalizing and harming youth who are in need of real treatment.