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Politics & Government

Prison Advocacy Groups Urge Decrease in WI's Rising Prison Population

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Wisconsin News Connection is here. 

MILWAUKEE - Although Wisconsin's prison capacity is limited to about 17,000 inmates, the number of incarcerated individuals in the state has reached a record 23,687. And it doesn't show any signs of decreasing.

The overpopulation of state prisons has led to advocacy groups calling for a change to the system to bring that figure down, as several other states have done in recent years. David Liners is state director at WISDOM, a group that opposes mass incarceration in Wisconsin.

He says laws changed in 2000 eliminating parole left many behind bars. "You've got 3,000 people who are just stuck, many of whom have done absolutely everything they're expected of, they've been there much longer than the judge ever intended for them to be," he points out. "There's easily 1,000 people that could be released tomorrow."

Liners says that putting people in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers instead of in prison would greatly reduce the amount of people sent back to prison for non-violent crimes. A report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum maintains the record 2.3 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 is because of truth-in-sentencing laws and more inmates serving time for violent crimes. However, states such as Michigan can only hold the re-incarcerated for 30 days if they don't commit a crime. Wisconsin can hold those individuals much longer. Liners says that's added more than 4,000 inmates to the system. "The state is renting county jail beds, that they've run out of space in county jails," he points out. "They're converting space that wasn't meant to be sleeping spaces into sleeping spaces."

Democratic gubernatorial challenger Tony Evers has been trying to make prisons an issue, proposing to cut the population in half. Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker has raised public safety concerns.

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