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YANA PASKOVA/Herald photo

Since Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, was elected to the state Assembly's 48th District in 2004, he has been an active advocate for education and juvenile justice reformation.

A University of Wisconsin alumnus, Parisi said he is a prime example of someone who has been able to succeed as a result of the work and help of others in the past.

"I was a high school drop-out, and when I decided to turn my life around, the generation before me had made resources available to ensure my success," Parisi said. "I might not have a college education today if it wasn't for the opportunities I was given."

During the past two years in office, Parisi said he has worked to create similar opportunities making it possible for future generations to attend college.

"I'm trying to make tuition affordable by increasing the amount of student aid," he said. "I think the state should match this aid dollar for dollar."

Parisi said he also questions the priorities of the majority party's long-term view of Wisconsin. He added Republicans in control of the Legislature have been focusing on trivial issues that do nothing to improve the state as a whole.

"[Wisconsin] must continue to be an attractive place with available and affordable education," he urged. "The UW is part of the economic system that runs our state."

And according to Parisi, there isn't a shortage of solutions to the problems plaguing Wisconsin; instead, there is a shortage of political will.

He said the real "meat and potato" issues like education reform were ignored in the last session. This, he said, is concerning because education must be accessible and affordable to everyone.

Additionally, he said he has enjoyed working to improve the juvenile justice system.

"There are so many people getting caught up in the corrections system and many don't belong there," Parisi said.

Although some of Parisi's colleagues in the Assembly disagree with his political views, many admire his efforts in state government.

Committee Chair Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, said in an e-mail that Parisi contributes by bringing "Madison activism" to the committee.

Though Bies does not oppose Parisi's juvenile justice reformation advocacy, Bies said he would "urge caution" on the issue, adding preventative measures must be taken to ensure criminals will not become repeat offenders or prison inmates.

Fellow committee member Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, agreed, calling Parisi "thoughtful but a bit too partisan when it comes to corrections policy."

To help inmates deal with their addictions, Parisi recently proposed Assembly Bill 866 — otherwise known as the Earned Release Program — which would release nonviolent offenders early on parole or extended supervision if they had fulfilled certain rehabilitation requirements.

"Our prisons are bursting with nonviolent offenders on the road to recovery," Parisi said. "This is not being soft on crime — it's being smart on crime."

However, opposing party members continue to debate the validity of the Earned Release Program.

"[AB 866] might as well be called the let 'em out early program," Suder said. "A catch and release policy should apply to anglers, not criminals."

Parisi said that people are not given the opportunity to overcome their addictions, and through this "extensive program," they would be given this opportunity and would be more likely to succeed when released.

In working with such potential programs, Parisi said he draws his inspiration from ensuring a positive future for the people of Wisconsin.

"Knowing that I can come to work in the morning and make a difference or help someone succeed is very inspiring," he said. "I couldn't ask for a better job description than that."