On any given day, 83% of the offenders who have been convicted of a serious crime in Wisconsin are not in prison: they are on the streets, while 17% of criminals are in Wisconsin prisons
By George Mitchell
When the issue of prisons in Wisconsin is discussed, the public often is left with the impression that most convicted criminals are spending time in a cell. The reality is that on any given day, 83% of the offenders who have been convicted of a serious crime in Wisconsin are not in prison: they are on the streets, while only 17% of criminals are in Wisconsin prisons.
The rhetoric surrounding this issue has obscured the reality that only the most dangerous convicted felons in Wisconsin are put into our prisons. The real issue is not just whether we need more prisons, but who do we actually want on the streets?
This study takes a close examination of the whole parole system in Wisconsin. Parole is the process that decides which dangerous offenders are released from prison before their sentence is actually completed. It is that process that is of most concern. Granted, only one out of ten criminals are in fact on parole at any given time. But, they are also by definition among the most dangerous of our convicted criminals. That is the reason that they were put into prison rather than being placed on probation by the courts. It is this process which becomes most relevant when one argues the cost of prisons.
The bottom line is whether Wisconsin society can afford to parole so many offenders because of the lack of prison space. The real issue is not just the cost of a prison cell, but the economic and emotional cost to the potential victims of crimes committed by convicted felons who are out on the streets because of the lack of prison space.
Today, Wisconsin’s prison problems are beginning to approach those of some larger states. We are on the road to a system in which eventually we will be forced to let out our dangerous felons due to a lack of planning and leadership from our elected officials. Anyone who reads this report must question the rhetoric surrounding the issue of incarceration or costs. Remember, whenever a dangerous felon on parole commits a crime, the victim is a resident of Wisconsin. What is the cost to that individual and their family and friends?