Our Guiding Principles on Criminal Justice Reform

Like all government programs, the criminal justice system must be evaluated on the basis of cost-effectiveness and outcomes. Wisconsin’s current system largely fails both the population it is meant to serve as well as the taxpayers footing the bill. Our prisons are overcrowded, spending on corrections is increasing and too many returning citizens struggle to integrate back into their communities.

Below are the Badger Institute’s guiding principles that inform our work and research related to criminal justice reform:

• Wisconsin’s criminal justice system must first and foremost work to reduce crime, improve public safety and achieve justice for victims.

• Policies must result in the most cost-effective, long-term solutions that reduce prison populations and safely return ex-offenders to society.

• The criminal justice system should prioritize personal responsibility, but state policymakers also should reduce barriers to opportunity for ex-offenders through education, workforce development, professional licensure reform and other approaches that are proven to reduce recidivism.

• Criminal law should be reserved for actions that threaten public safety. It should not be wielded to expand state influence, undermine economic freedom or curtail personal responsibility.

• Reforms should be supported by the best available research, and implementation should be monitored to ensure that goals are met.

• The criminal justice system should prioritize community-based alternatives for reducing lengthy prison stays for nonviolent offenders.

• The corrections system should recognize the value and dignity of work, since employment plays a significant role in reducing recidivism and benefits both local communities and the larger labor market.