Anyone following the national news lately has noticed a big problem plaguing many states: prisons are overcrowded. This is especially true in states like California that impose prison sentences for a wider variety of non-violent offenses such as drug crimes. Overcrowding in prisons leads to serious health and safety problems, and it costs taxpayers billions of dollars per year.
In a piece of recent good news, it seems that Wisconsin is leading a trend in prison population reduction. In fact, over the last five years, the Wisconsin prison population has dropped 3 percent. The state's prisons are now at less than 100 percent capacity. This means some empty beds and a big savings to taxpayers.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections secretary estimates that it costs $33,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison. Compare that to the $3,000 it costs to manage non-violent offenders in the community and in rehabilitation programs. When you consider that Wisconsin prisons have decreased by about 1,800 inmates in the last few years the annual savings are substantial.
This trend in prison de-crowding was started 8 years ago by Governor Jim Doyle. He advocated for programs which focus on rehabilitation rather than just long prison sentences. This approach not only saves the taxpayers money, it also gives convicted offenders a chance to turn their lives around and prevent future convictions.
Efforts to decrease prison populations ultimately benefit everyone. Most importantly, it offers more humane conditions for prisoners and gives many convicted offenders a second chance to turn their lives around.
Source: Wisconsin Radio Network online, "Wisconsin's prison population declines," Andrew Beckett, 23 December 2010