State Director, Wisconsin
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Thomas Lyons | February 28, 2019
Recently, a new report was released by Columbia University’s Justice Lab that examines how Wisconsin’s approach to community supervision is different from other states—with the result being a more expensive criminal justice system. In an attempt to be hard on criminals, Wisconsin’s approach to community supervision is a strain on taxpayers with no tangible effect on safety.
A significant contributing factor of the increase of people on community supervision is the implementation of the truth-in-sentencing statute in 2000. Under that law, a pre-determined amount of time is imposed not only for prison, but post-release. The end result is people in Wisconsin are sentenced to a longer than average period of community supervision following release than the national average. The increased attention to people being released from prison would be a worthwhile investment. However, Wisconsin’s crime rate remains strikingly similar to neighboring states with similar demographics.
Perhaps the largest shortcoming in the Wisconsin community supervision system is highlighted by the lack of insufficient safeguards to address minor violations. It is not that there is a significant number of people on community supervision in Wisconsin; it is there is an institutional unwillingness to address minor violations. After all, Wisconsin has approximately twice as many people involved in community supervision with an incarceration rate of half of Wisconsin’s.
In addition to a lack of systemic ability to address minor violations is the amount of time a person recently released from prison can expect to spend on community supervision. Wisconsin ranks third in the nation for the length of time a person must abide by the rules of community supervision.
The large amount of potential reincarceration time is because of how unusual extended supervision is calculated here in the Badger State. When a person is sentenced to prison, the sentencing court will determine an amount of time to be spent within the prison and a certain amount of time spent on community supervision. Rather than granting credit for time spent out of prison towards the total sentence, Wisconsin disregards the time spent “on the street” and permits a person to be reincarcerated for the total length of time the court ordered be spent on community supervision.
Wisconsin is quickly approaching the point where the prison population is reaching a crisis point. Conservative policymakers must ask themselves if the significant amount of time on community supervision compared to similar states is worth the investment of significantly more public resources when community safety is largely unaffected by the efforts.