Report: Record number of adults in Wisconsin prisons

MADISON — Wisconsin's prisons held a record number of adults in 2017 and the population will only continue to grow over the next two years, costing the state tens of millions of dollars, according to a report released Wednesday.

Nonpartisan research organization Wisconsin Policy Forum's findings show a record 23,687 adults were incarcerated in state prisons last year, up 2.3 percent from 2016.

The organization notes that the Department of Corrections' 2019-2021 budget request projects the population will grow by an additional 5.7 percent to around 25,055 inmates by 2021. The agency has asked for an additional $149.4 million to handle the influx.

Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

The report attributes the population increase to number of factors.

More inmates are getting locked up again after violating terms of their parole or extended supervision. According to the report 36.5 percent of all admissions in 2017 were inmates whose parole or supervision had been revoked, compared with 21.9 percent in 1990. Inmates entering prison with a new sentence dropped from 46.6 percent to 29.9 percent over that same 27-year period.

Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing laws also are keeping more inmates behind bars longer, according to the report.

Prison inmates convicted before 2000 are generally eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their sentence and are usually required to be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence. Offenders convicted after 2000, however, are subject to truth-in-sentencing statutes, which require a period of extended supervision equal to a quarter of their behind-bars sentence. Inmates whose supervision is revoked can be required to serve the entire term of their extended supervision behind bars, the report said.

The number of inmates convicted of either property crimes or drugs has declined between 2006 and 2017, the report found, but more inmates are doing time for violent crimes. Sixty-six percent of the population was in for violent crimes in 2017, up from 59 percent in 2006. That's important because inmates convicted of violent crimes typically receive longer sentences.

Republicans who control the state Assembly passed a bill in February that would have authorized $350 million in borrowing to build a new prison. The measure died in the Senate.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tony Evers supports reducing the population by half. He hasn't offered a plan on how to achieve that. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who authored the truth-in-sentencing laws when he was in the state Assembly, says Evers can't reach that goal without releasing violent offenders because more than half of inmates are in prison for violent crimes. Experts say Walker is right.