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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Prison reformists, lawmakers clash over proposal for tougher crime laws

Sen. Vukmir said bills would protect families, neighborhoods from violent criminals
Courtesy of flickr user Melissa Robison

A package of bills aimed toward addressing the growing problem of repeat violent offenders introduced by State Sen. Leah Vukmir were passed by the State Senate last month.

Three of the bills received bipartisan support in the legislature. Vukmir believes these bills will make Wisconsin safer and aid in protecting victims.

“It’s time to say enough is enough and pass laws that protect victims, not enable criminals,” Vukmir said.


Some of the bills did not receive bipartisan support, however, remaining unpopular among Democratic leaders and prison reform policy groups. One bill allowed inmates to be held longer at state troubled youth prisons and the other bill required the Department of Corrections to recommend revocation of probation, parole or extended supervision for anyone charged with another crime.

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EX-Prisoners Organizing is one such group that vocalized opposition to the passage of these bills. EXPO works to end mass incarceration and structural discrimination, as well as help prisoners return to their communities after incarceration.

EXPO Organizer Mark Rice said these bills are not effective in solving the problems they aim to fix.

“The bills are going to likely increase incarceration rates and create the need for Wisconsin to spend more on corrections, and potentially build more prisons, and that’s what we fight against,” Rice said. “We believe that we need to focus on building safer, stronger, healthier communities in other ways.”

Rice argues policies utilizing mass incarceration are historically ineffective and expensive. He said policies like the ones suggested in the bills have already been tried in the 1980s and 1990s, and largely failed.

This led to less money available to spend on public education, increasing the minimum wage and generally other programs that could help build stronger and safer communities, Rice said. Instead of focusing on punishment, he would like to see these funds put back into the community to focus on crime prevention.

“Wisconsin already spends more on corrections than on the University of Wisconsin System, [so] we’re spending more on failed policies that have already been tried in the 80s [and] 90s,” Rice said. “So we’d like to see them take a more proactive approach and focus on preventing crime in the first place.”

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But Vukmir argues these bills are necessary to protect Wisconsin neighborhoods against repeat offenders.

“Wisconsin has experienced a shocking and unacceptable increase in violent crimes,” Vukmir said. “My bills hold violent offenders who repeatedly victimize our communities in egregious ways accountable.”

But Rice said these bills do not address crime-less revocations, one of EXPO’s main issues.

Rice, in an article for Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, said that crimeless revocation is when a formerly incarcerated person is sent back to prison for a technical violation or minor infraction such as unauthorized cell phone use or failing alcohol tests.

“The Wisconsin Department of Revocations sent 3,000 people back to prison for a revocation without a new conviction, so we’re calling on Wisconsin to end crimeless revocations and reinvest that money back into programs that would help to reduce recidivism,” Rice said.

Derail the Jail panel discusses ways to fight mass incarceration in Dane County

While these bills are not law yet, Vukmir hopes these bills will pass through the Legislature and be put into effect soon. The Senate has already passed the bill, but the Assembly referred the bill to the joint committee on finance.

Ultimately, Rice said these bills do not address the causes of crime or the underlying problems which lead to crime. He argues more can be done to address crime by investing resources back into the communities which need them, especially in areas of Milwaukee.

“We can’t solve these problems just by building more prisons and adding more police officers to the streets,” Rice said. “We need to take a different approach.”

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