Doyle gives mixed signals on prison reform


Gov. Jim Doyle has disappointed some in his own party by vetoing some key provisions of the early-release program put into the budget that was signed last week. For the first time since 1999, Wisconsin offenders will be able to earn reduced sentences with good behavior. It’s the beginning of a serious corrections policy in Wisconsin, which has one of the most ineffective and morally corrupt prison systems in the country. Not too mention one of the most expensive.

Doyle vetoed a part that would put caps on the amount of time offenders could serve for violating their parole/extended supervision. Currently an enormous chunk of Wisconsin prisoners are behind bars for simply violating the terms of their extended supervision – meaning they often haven’t committed a new crime. The average supervision violator spends 18 months in prison for it. At a cost of $99 million a year. But that doesn’t even compare to the havoc the policy wreaks on that person’s life and the damage it does to communities. Turning minor offenders into long-term inmates is perhaps the only real way to ensure that crime becomes their career of choice.

Nevertheless, Doyle is correct in asserting that judges, not lawmakers, should generally be the ones deciding sentences. Although there are reasonable maximum and even minimal sentencing guidelines that should be imposed, judges shouldn’t be constricted too much. But the legislature’s request was reasonable – parole offenders who haven’t committed a new crime should definitely not spend more than 6 months in prison. 6 months? Stop a second and contemplate 6 months in prison. Maybe you’ve done it – chances are if you live in Wisconsin you have a very good chance of being a good person who’s spent that kind of time behind bars for a petty offense. Doyle should not have vetoed the provision.

Other recommendations included limiting the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars, setting a goal to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011, expanding community-based mental health and job placement services for offenders and giving judges the authority to hand out shorter sentences if offenders complete court-ordered treatment programs.

In the budget he signed last week, however, Doyle vetoed the 25-percent goal in recidivism reduction, the cap on extended supervision and the six-month limit on prison time for revocations. While the Legislature didn’t propose allowing judges to hand out shorter sentences contingent upon successful treatment programs, it would have allowed judges to review sentences that have been reduced. Doyle vetoed that, too.

It shouldn’t be too big of a deal that Doyle didn’t sign the 25 percent goal. This state is dying for corrections reform and everybody in the legal community can see the evidence surrounding us. Just look to Minnesota, which has a third as many prisoners and a third the cost of our corrections system. It also has a slightly lower crime rate. But, like most things supported by reason and/or science, Wisconsin Republicans are predictably vociferous opponents.

Citizens of Wisconsin beware: Thousands of dangerous criminals will be out of jail early and they may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you,” Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford said.

That makes sense. When one is sentenced to 6 months in prison but gets out in 4 – they’re considerably more dangerous. That two months they would have spent in prison magically destroys  their will to be naughty.

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