With overcrowded prisons affecting taxpayers’ pocketbooks, two proposed bills aim to reduce incarceration for certain non-violent offenders.
A bill introduced by Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to develop diversion programs for parolees who violate the terms of their probation, such as drug and alcohol abuse, and establish short-term repercussions instead of being sent back to prison.
This bill would require the Department of Corrections to expand on the current National Institute of Corrections’ efforts toward reducing incarceration rates of non-violent crimes committed by parolees, Joy Staab, Wisconsin Department of Corrections spokesperson, said.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said he believes the legislation would benefit taxpayers and parolees alike.
“It saves taxpayers a lot of money to provide a program of treatment rather than incarceration. In this case, prison doesn’t necessarily solve the problem—it’s unnecessary,” Risser said. “It’s much less costly and better for the individual.”
The second bill, introduced by Rep. Paul Tittl, R-Marinette, and passed into law in November, will grant the Wisconsin Department of Justice the ability to expand treatment and diversion programs to prevent first-time, non-violent offenders from being incarcerated, granting 13 counties additional funding for TAD programs.
Tittl said he hopes people can see the long-term investment in the people of the state on this issue.
“I think [the legislation is] going to do some things that we can learn and grow off of, and in the long run, you have to look at the money we’re investing in this — you’re not going to see the immediate, short-term benefit, but a long-term investment in the people,” he said.
Tittl praised both Gov. Scott Walker and Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos, R-Burlington, for their support of the bill. Tittl said their support “shows that they have some vision for the future.”
Risser said he believes these bills will have very positive benefits based on their widespread, bipartisan support in the Legislature.
“As far as I know, this bill has almost unanimous support in the Legislature,” he said. “The Joint Finance Committee approved this bill 15-0. The committee is bipartisan, and when you get a 15-0 vote out of them, you know you have support.”
Risser also said the bill saves taxpayers’ money by providing a program for treatment rather than incarceration.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the average cost of incarceration in 2010 for one Wisconsin prisoner was $37,994.
The Department of Justice released a fiscal estimate for Tittl’s bill, which projected $375,000 per year to be directed to the DOJ for first-time TAD programs.
DOJ spokesperson Dana Brueck said Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen sees tremendous value in the projects, and the DOJ supports the legislation, but they had some concerns.
“We do have some concerns about having the necessary administrative support to ensure that the program operates as intended with successful local programs generating the results sought and expected,” Brueck said.