A profile of urban inmates in Wisconsin prisons
By John DiIulio and George Mitchell
According to a number of experts, Wisconsin’s prisons supposedly are teeming with low-level drug criminals or first-time, non-violent offenders who might be safely released into community supervision. Here are four typical sets of such claims:
There are a large number of [Wisconsin inmates) who are not violent or assaultive [and] who pose little risk of harm to others [under supervision)….
[Fony-two percent of Wisconsin prison admissions) arc identified on the “low-risk sentence track”….Wisconsin Correctional System Review Panel, Final Report, June 1991.
Over half the offenders sent to prison in Wisconsin each year have committed a property offense and about fifteen percent have committed a drug offense. About ninety percent of these offenders have not committed any assaultive offense….
While there certainly are some assaultive, dangerous, sophisticated offenders in Wisconsin’s prisons, most do not fit this profile.Dollars and Sense, Policy Choices and the Wisconsin Budget, Volume III, 1994, Robert M. La Follette Institute of Public Affairs, OW-Madison.
Prison serves the community well by putting away violent offenders, but it does little 10 reduce or deter the broad range of lesser crimes that bedevil the criminal justice system.The Milwaukee Journal, March 3, 1995, editorial.
[N]on-violent offenders and criminals addicted to drugs [are] segments of the prison population that might be better served without long-term incarceration.Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, February 11, 1996.
These claims are almost completely at odds with the truth about who really goes to prison in Wisconsin. Based on this study, on previous studies focused on Wisconsin, and on relevant national data sets, anyone who continues to make such claims is guilty of ignoring the data or purposefully distorting it.
This study profiles a representative sample of urban inmates in Wisconsin prisons.1 It is based on a computer assisted review of data from more than 3,500 pages of official inmate files of the Department of Corrections, including information on juvenile criminal activity. Our purpose is to provide an overall profile of the urban inmate and to focus on inmates in categories which some have identified as including offenders who do not need to be in prison. These include “drug offenders,” “non-assaultive” or “non-violent” offenders, “low-risk” offenders, and “first-time” offenders. This study of inmates in those categories refutes the thesis that they have been wrongly incarcerated. A synopsis of the case studies of all such inmates in the study sample are presented in this report, including information on the current crime and sentence, recidivism (prior adult and juvenile records), parole or probation violations, and verbatim assessments of the offenders by state officials.