It's time for Wisconsin to get smart on justice
Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to crime, which traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities. It should be the last option, not the first. Yet Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the United States. Decades of bad policies have torn families apart and cost our state billions.
The ACLU of Wisconsin's Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multi-year effort to reduce Wisconsin's jail and prison populations by 50 percent and to eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. With the support of community partners and organizations from across the political spectrum, we are pushing for smart policy solutions, advancing the leadership of people directly impacted by Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, and making sure politicians understand the urgency of Smart Justice reform.
Why We Must End Mass Incarceration
Wisconsin’s prison, jail, and community supervision systems are at a tipping point. The prison system has no place to put any more people. The prison system was built to house approximately 17,000 people, while this summer the system currently houses 20,000. The Department of Corrections (the “DOC”) acknowledges that they have maxed out all available space and as a result, they are renting beds in county jails across the state. This is the case, even with some strides made towards progress. Since the start of the Smart Justice campaign in 2018, the state’s prison population is down 3,500 people.
Furthermore, the county jail system currently houses 12,500 people, many of whom are awaiting trial and have yet to have been convicted of a crime. The incarceration crisis is worsening as a new mandatory sentencing law for Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”) on the 4th and subsequent convictions are driving about one new person to prison per day. Moreover, the DOC currently oversees 65,000 people who have returned to their communities but remain on community supervision and are under constant threat of returning to prison or jail as a result of breaking a rule of supervision. Pre-pandemic, crimeless revocations accounted for the largest percentage (approximately 40%) of prison admissions each year (approximately 3,000 people). This is an untenable situation, which even early supporters of Truth in Sentencing Laws have started to acknowledge.
To get involved with the ACLU of Wisconsin's Campaign for Smart Justice, sign up here.
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