As Wisconsin spends more money on its correctional system, this report analyzes how much value citizens are getting
By George Mitchell
This study evaluates the prison expansion program which has been underway in Wisconsin since the late 1970s. The findings are that:
Increased incarceration is a major reason for an 18% cut in Wisconsin’s crime rate between 1980 and the end of 1994. Conservatively, more than 255,000 crimes were averted. Prior to 1980, crime soared while incarceration grew slightly. Changing demographics also influenced crime levels, before and after 1980.
While prison costs are a growing share of the state’s budget, on a per capita basis they were a modest $46 a year in 1994. There is strong evidence that this cost to the state’s budget is exceeded by savings, through averted crime, to citizens at large. Nationally, prison spending was less than 1 % of government spending in 1990.
Several factors portend an increase in crime in Wisconsin, including:
A combination of demographic and social trends: (i) growth in the most crime-prone age group; (ii) more unskilled youths; and (iii) a continuing increase in unstable, single-parent families.
An apparent departure from the state’s successful prison expansion policy. Expansion plans in the new state budget account for about 20% of the projected growth in inmates by the year 2000. This contrasts with the state’s historical practice, since the late 1970s, of adding capacity to account for the majority of new inmates. As a result of this change, the share of felons not in prison could grow significantly and the state’s electronic supervision program will be expanded to include more serious, repeat offenders – burglars, thieves, robbers, and others.
The information in this study shows that the state’s prison policy has been effective. It warrants review as the state moves in the direction of a new policy.