MILWAUKEE – The ACLU of Wisconsin condemned a so-called “tougher on crime” package of legislation introduced today by Wisconsin legislators, asserting the measures would further weaken public safety and waste taxpayer dollars.
“What ‘tough on crime’ really means is ‘tough on taxpayers’ and ‘tough on communities,’” said Chris Ott, ACLU of Wisconsin executive director. “These proposals would double down on the harmful policies that have failed to make our communities safe, wasted taxpayer money, and pushed our corrections system to the breaking point. It’s deeply disappointing that on the same day that White House advisor Jared Kushner is in Wisconsin to discuss prison reform, Wisconsin legislators are thumbing their noses at the bipartisan progress that has recently been made.
Let’s be clear: these measures would weaken public safety by destabilizing families, weakening communities, and diverting resources away from priorities like mental health and addiction treatment. The Wisconsin Legislature should be working to support communities and families, not needlessly putting more people behind bars.”
The package introduced today stands in stark contrast to the federal First Step Act that was signed into law last year, and reforms introduced last week by state Rep. Evan Goyke and state Sen. Lena Taylor. “The Wisconsin Corrections Reform & Reinvestment Initiative,” while modest in scope and deficient in some areas, represents a meaningful effort to repair Wisconsin’s criminal legal system.
Wisconsin’s prison population grew more than fivefold between 1980 and 2016, costing taxpayers more than $1 billion annually. Today, more than 23,000 Wisconsinites are imprisoned, and when people on community supervision or in local jails are included the number increases to 1 in 45 adults. In 2017 alone, more than 3,000 Wisconsinites were sent back to prison for technical violations, accounting for 45 percent of all new admissions to state prisons, the largest such group who were incarcerated that year.